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Modernizing Chinese Medicine

Hong Kong is making plans to modernize traditional Chinese medicines with clinical testing, official stamps of approval and global marketing.

By establishing recognized standards for the ancient healing methods, which stress total body harmony instead of ridding the body of harmful bacteria or viruses that cause sicknesses, Hong Kong hopes to help create a bigger international industry that it can dominate.

Hong Kong's first-class business infrastructure and mainland China's expertise in the medicines would prove a perfect combination, said Francis Ho, Hong Kong's director-general of industry.

The Chinese drug makers could become bigger players in a growing global herbal medicine market that was worth $16.8 billion last year, and the expanding health food market that brought in $65 billion, Ho told a news conference.

Under a 10-year plan released Tuesday, Hong Kong should be able to start producing Chinese medicine-based health tonics and supplements for export in three years and curative drugs in a decade, Ho said.

"We can see this trend of healthy living," Ho said. "Many consumers now prefer natural products instead of chemical-based drugs."

Private companies will be doing most of the work, but the government will help by building world-class research and regulatory systems, which are essential to market the drugs abroad, Ho said.

Chinese herbal medicine already is becoming a profitable business, as alternative medicines gain popularity and credibility in the West as a complement to traditional Western medicine, Ho said.

But very few Chinese drugs are exported because of a lack of an international drug approval administration to oversee the quality. And many Chinese drugs have never undergone any contemporary clinical scrutiny.

Chinese medical practitioners usually prescribe medicinal brews of herbs and animal derivatives, and there are also many herb-based over-the-counter drugs.

Traditional Chinese medicines using natural ingredients and animal parts have been around for 5,000 years.

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