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Fighting the Next Superbug

Fighting the Next Superbug

Write: William [2011-05-20]

(From Beijing Riview, 2010-10-08)

Fighting the Next Superbug

PREPPED AND READY: Guangzhou Pharmaceutical's booth at the 56th PharmChina, the largest pharmaceutical exhibition in China, held in Shenzhen in 2006, attracts many visitors. Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Holdings Ltd. is joining hands with many other research institutes to develop medicines to fight against future superbugs (CFP)

With A/H1N1, popularly known as "swine flu," becoming a distant memory, concerns are mounting about the next pandemic and the catastrophic effect it could have on the global population. To alleviate the tension, Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Holdings Ltd. is taking a non-traditional approach to fighting future widespread diseases by avoiding antibiotic treatment and embracing traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

The pharmaceutical company launched a program with the South China Center for Innovative Pharmaceuticals on September 11 to specifically develop medicines to fight the next superbug. They plan to invest 50 million yuan ($7.32 million) in three major projects and aim for results in five years.

Li Chuyuan, President of Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Holdings Ltd., said the Ministry of Health is closely monitoring viruses and fatal diseases throughout the world to help China prepare for future outbreaks. Minister of Health Chen Zhu said emphasis would be placed on using TCM to combat infectious diseases, marking the first time that the Chinese Government expressed its concerns over contagions.

The State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine attached great importance to the ministry's decree and committed more support to anti-bacteria and anti-virus research. Taking part in the effort, Guangzhou Pharmaceutical connected with a number of research institutes and formed numerous researches and plans to develop medication by combining Chinese and Western medicines.

TCM's advantages

"TCM has some unique advantages in preventing and curing superbugs," said Li. Li explained that making TCM is a complicated process but produces medication that has anti-bacterial effects. For instance, some herbal medicines, such as honeysuckle, radix and andrographis paniculata, can curb certain bacterium and viruses and also regulate and protect the body's immune system.

Guangzhou Pharmaceutical's anti-superbug program has received support from veteran Chinese pharmaceutical experts and academicians from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Li said due to the special climate and soil around Guangdong, a large number of anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory TCM are readily available in the region and has enabled doctors and pharmacist to accumulate rich clinical experience. Now, the company strives to build the largest research and development base for anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory TCM in the world.

Wang Guoqiang, Vice Ministry of Health, expressed his appreciation of Guangzhou Pharmaceutical's commitment and vowed to give full support to the research and development for anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory TCMs.

A pharmaceutical giant

Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Holdings Ltd. a wholly state-owned enterprise, is principally engaged in producing and distributing Chinese patent medicines, the research and development of natural medicines and biological drugs, as well as wholesaling and retailing of Western and Chinese medicines and medical equipment.

The company's major products include fever-clearing and anti-toxic remedies, diabetes drugs, medicines for cough, the common cold, arthritis and gastric diseases, and an array of other products. It is rated as one of the top 50 enterprises in Guangdong Province and one of the top 500 companies in China.

Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Holdings Ltd. has two listed companies Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. (listed on the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock markets) and Guangzhou Baiyunshan Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. (listed on the Shenzhen stock market) as well as up to 30 subsidiaries. In 2009, it shrugged off the global financial crisis and maintained its development momentum.

The group's industrial output totaled 8.414 billion yuan ($1.24 billion) in 2009, rising 10.73 percent year on year. Its sales revenue and profits last year topped 22.79 billion yuan ($3.38 billion) and 639 million yuan ($95.28 million), respectively, up 11.73 percent and 11.4 percent year on year.

Guangzhou Pharmaceutical produces more than 1,000 Chinese and Western medicines, with 65 traditional Chinese medicines included in the lists of national or provincial quality products. And of these, 45 are under state protection and 20 are solely produced by the company.

Seven of its medicines have annual sales exceeding 100 million yuan ($14.8 million). In 2009, its export value grew 11.74 percent year on year.

R&D abilities

In 2009, the company applied for 32 domestic patents, three international patents under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, and two American patents. In April 2010, the company's cephalosporin amidine hydrochloride, a kind of antibiotic, received a U.S. patent. Before 2009, the company had only received 24 domestic patents and six international patents.

In 2009, the company applied for 44 key scientific research programs, including 10 at the state-level, eight at the provincial level and 22 at the city level.

Hutchison Whampoa Guangzhou Baiyunshan Chinese Medicine Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of Guangzhou Pharmaceutical, and Zhong Nanshan, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, jointly established the first domestic TCM anti-virus research institute, which has won financial support from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

So far, the company has established post-doctoral research programs with a number of research institutes, including Guangzhou Baidi Biotechnology Co. Ltd. and a laboratory for non-clinical drug safety evaluations.

Guangzhou Pharmaceutical has also taken the lead in various medical and pharmaceutical fields in the domestic market. The cephathiamidinum, another kind of antibiotic developed by its subsidiary Baiyunshan Pharmaceutical, was awarded the second prize in a national technology invention competition in 2006. The semisynthetic cephalosporin is China's first pharmaceutical indigenous innovation, displaying the company's expertise and potential.

Industrial insiders are optimistic about the pharmaceutical giant's mission to develop medicines and treatments against lethal future outbreaks of viruses and diseases. However, some are skeptical about the five-year deadline. "It takes Western pharmaceutical giants 10 or more years and no less than $1 billion to develop new medicines. But Guangzhou Pharmaceutical's plan to make a breakthrough in five years with only $7.45 million might just be a castle in the sky," said an industrial insider who declined to be named.

China's Top 10 Pharmaceuticals

1. Shanghai Pharmaceutical (Group) Co. Ltd.

2. China National Pharmaceutical Group Corp.

3. Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Holdings Ltd.

4. Tianjin Pharmacy Group Co. Ltd.

5. Shandong Dong-e E-jiao Group

6. Harbin Pharmaceutical Group

7. Nanjiing Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.

8. North China Pharmaceutical Group Corp.

9. Jiangsu Yangtze River Pharmaceutical Group

10. Taiji Group Co. Ltd.