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Merck recently announced that it will collaborate with Hong Kong-based Chi-Med, a pharmaceutical firm that focuses on researching, developing, manufacturing and selling pharmaceuticals, health supplements and other consumer health and personal care products derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine and botanical ingredients, to develop new cancer drugs.
Chinese herbal medicines have been used for centuries. Merck’s partnership with Chi-Med was likely made with the intention of identifying the active ingredients in those medicines.
Western pharmaceutical companies are increasingly outsourcing parts of drug discovery work due to the time and money – typically 7-10 years at a price of $800 million or more – required to find molecules to treat disease.
The question is, when Merck patents the active ingredients in Chinese herbs, will it affect low cost, natural health practices? Hopefully, the answer will be no, since it’s speculated that any molecules identified will be modified and sold as Western drugs, not Chinese medicine.