US-China research partnership on ginseng sign of growing backing for TCM, sources say

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

US-China research partnership on ginseng sign of growing backing for TCM, sources say
The funding of a US-China research partnership focusing on ginseng in healthy aging and immunity is a sign of the growing investment behind — and evidence for — TCM ingredients, sources say.

Fusheng Pharmaceutical Company Co., Ltd, a major pharmaceutical company in Dalian, China has contributed $100,000 to the Milstein Medical Asian American Partnership (MMAAP) Foundation to support research at Johns Hopkins University focusing on aging and immunity. Dr. Li Fu, Chairman of Dalian Fusheng Pharmaceutical Company Co., Ltd, signed an MOU with Howard Milstein, Chairman of MMAAP Foundation, to fund work in 2018 sponsored by the MMAAP Foundation's Irma and Paul Milstein Program for Senior Health, with a commitment to contribute another $100,000 to those research efforts in 2019.

Ginseng specialist

Fusheng Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd specializes in ginsenoside Rg3, botanical extracts and Traditional Chinese Medicine ingredients. It has extensive experience in producing botanical extracts for dietary supplements, as well as in the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries. It claims to be the leading manufacturer of ginsenoside Rg3 in the world.

Ginsenoside Rg3 is a triterpene saponin that can be extracted from Panax ginseng​. The compound has been researched for its  neuromodulatory, cognition enhancing, anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects. It has also been researched for its anticancer chemotherapeutic activity.

Fusheng’s funding commitment comes on the heels of a donation of $85,000 made last year, according to the company. The research that will be done under the partnership is unspecified, and appears to be aimed at the development of ginsenoside Rg3 as either a pharmaceutical in its own right or as an adjunct to conventional drug therapies.

The drug/supplement divide is a bright line drawn in the regulations that govern dietary supplements in the US. But in other markets, the division is not so clear cut.  Many Chinese companies that sell dietary ingredients into the US market straddle this divide and have the word ‘pharmaceutical’ in their names.

Halo effect for ginseng

Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, said that while the information that arises as part of the Fusheng/MMAAP partnership might not have immediate direct applicability for the development of dietary supplements, it could provide a halo effect of sorts.

There has been a development happening in the past 10 or 12 years in China to look at the production of modern pharmaceutical drugs from TCM extracts. RG3 is one of the many ginsenosides found in Asian ginseng and American ginseng. This potentially could stimulate more research and could push back on other ginseng extracts,​ Blumenthal told NutraIngredients-USA.

Nobel Prize was a watershed moment

Roy Upton, founder and executive director of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, said that when Chinese researcher Tu Youyou won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine, a big door was opened stimulating the Chinese government to actively support further research into TCM. Tu shared the prize for her work on the development of artemisin, a drug dervied from Artemisa annua​, an herb used in TCM. Tu said she learned about the use of the herb for malaria from traditional Chinese literature.

Unfortunately, in the East there is a sense that Chinese herbal medicines or the research that goes into them are inferior to Western drugs and so, rightfully or not, there is a desire to conduct Chinese herbal medicine studies according to what they feel reflects the gold standard in medical research,​ Upton said.

Upton said these kinds of partnerships will help to bring TCM research into the mainstream. There are reams of information about TCM dating back hundreds or thousands of years and there has been significant recent research done on herbal ingredients in China. But an issue with much of it has been that, while informative, the documentation is not done in a manner that would allow for approval as formal or traditional herbal drugs in most Western countries. 

I believe these kinds of collaborations will continue, especially as big companies in China are wanting to gain access to Western markets,​ Upton said.

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