Tradition in a Modern Setting – Guangdong-Macau park aims at world status for Chinese medicine

4 March 2016

In the northeast corner of Hengqin is growing an industrial park with an ambitious goal – to win international recognition for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and turn it into products that are sold around the world.

The Guangdong-Macau TCM Science and Technology Industrial Park is being built on 500,000 square metres of land, with the first structures to go into use in the first half of 2017 – a headquarters building and pilot production base.

“We must go out and earn world recognition for TCM,” said Yuki Lu Hong, the president and the chief executive of the Guangdong-Macau Traditional Chinese Medicine Technology Industry Park Development CO., Ltd. (GMTCM Park) that is building the park. “This is a major strategy of the nation. We will make high-quality TCM products including TCM medicine, healthy food and provide high-quality TCM health care service.

“This will take time in the western countries,” she said in an interview. “We must not be in a rush. This will be a very big change. This will be a window for the culture of TCM to the world especially for the Portuguese-speaking countries (PSC).”

TCM received unprecedented global atten-tion last December 10th, when Chinese phar-macologist Tu Youyou received a Nobel Prize for Medicine in Stockholm, Sweden.

She is the first Chinese scientist to win a Nobel prize for work done in China. In a speech in Stockholm on 7th December 2015, she said: “Chinese medicine and pharmacology are a great treasure house for medical research which should be explored and raised to a higher level. Adopting, exploring, developing and advancing these practices would allow us to discover more novel medicines beneficial to world health care.”

The development company was founded in November 2011 for the industry planning, construction, operation and management of the park. It has a registered capital of 1.2 billion yuan, with 51 per cent held by the Macao government and 49 per cent by state-owned Zhuhai Da Hengqin Investment Company.

The SAR government has chosen to develop TCM as a new industry, part of its strategy to diversify the economy. It has no area within the SAR large enough for such a park and so chose to develop one in Hengqin.

Elements of the park

The park was planned for different func-tions; they include an R&D center, incubation centre, exhibition and exchange platform, a health and wellness demonstration area, warehouse and logistics and TCM lifestyle experience. The exhibition and exchange platform will put on cultural shows, exhibitions, trade technology exchanges and training and conferences.

Lu said that land in Macao was very expensive. “It is not a good environment. It was a good choice to come here, giving us space for R&D.” Of the 50 staff working there now, 10 are from Macao, using a shuttle bus which the company provides.

The infrastructure linking the two places is falling into place. In December 2014, the border at Lotus Bridge started opening 24 hours a day.

Lu said that they had asked the Hengqin government to improve public transport to the site. The headquarter building which is under construction will include restaurants and convenience stores, to facilitate those who will work there.

For the moment, the park is a lonely place in the northwest corner of the island, surrounded by giant construction sites.

One of Lu’s tasks is to attract investors to the park. And it received a major boost in September, when the first large company in this sector signed a contract.

Guangzhou Pharmaceuticals Corporation (GPC) signed a framework co-operation agreement, to work with the park in a strategic partnership to register Chinese medical products and spread the culture of the medicines.

The importance of the signing, in Guangzhou, was underlined by the presence of senior officials from Beijing, including Wang Guoqiang, deputy director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission and director-general of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Established in 1951, GPC is one of the biggest companies in this sector, with sales in 2014 of 33.53 billion yuan, up 16.24 per cent over a year earlier. It has 21 subsidiary companies and makes nearly 50,000 different products, including Chinese and western medicines, chemicals, medical equipment and health products.

In his speech at the signing, Wang said that he hoped more mainland companies would follow GPC and accelerate the industrialization of Chinese medicines, in their research and development and help to diversify the economy of Macao.

“We want to turn the culture and philosophy of Chinese medicines into products and equipment which we can export to western countries,” he said.

In his speech at the signing, Leong Vai Tac, Macao Secretary for Economy and Finance, said that the park would benefit from the policies favouring the Hengqin area of Zhuhai as part of the Pilot Free Trade Zone of Guangdong.

“The government attaches great importance to the development of traditional Chinese medicine, which is regarded as an important strategy to diversify the economy,” he said.

Another major investor is Gansu Qizheng Industry Group, a Lanzhou company that makes traditional Tibetan medicines. Founded in 1993, it has 10 subsidiaries and 1,300 employees and is listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange.

Strategic plan

The park is part of a national strategy to turn TCM into products that can be exported around the world.

In China, there are 3,397 traditional medicine hospitals which in 2012 received 451 million patients, including 17.99 million inpatients. Among Chinese communities outside the mainland, TCM is well accepted, although most people prefer western medicine to treat urgent diseases.

China is spending more than one billion yuan a year on TCM research; this is included in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) for TCM. During this period, the use of TCM will be explored in the rehabilitation, prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDs, chronic liver infection and diabetes.

The SAR government has chosen TCM as a new industry. The department of Chinese medicine at the University of Macau has 29 faculty members and several hundred graduates.

“We have invested in new laboratories in Chinese medicine and this was recognized by the Ministry of Science and Technology in Beijing,” said Rector Zhao Wei. “This is exceptional in Hong Kong and Macao. Academically speaking, this is challenging and exciting.”

This is the State Key Laboratory of Quality Research in Chinese medicine, one of two state key labs on campus. This year the two labs have a research budget of close to US$17 million.

“In the past, Chinese medicine was not treated as a science,” said Zhao. “We did not know the side effects of a herb or how to control the quality. We are using scientific methods to measure their side effects and hope to translate this into real products in a few years that are scientifically proven. A university cannot sell products, so we will transfer the technology to a company and hopefully receive a portion of profits.”

Bridgehead into Portuguese-speaking countries

Lu said that the PSCs were an important export market for TCM.

“People there have close feelings toward Macao and understand TCM better than in Europe and North America. We are holding discussions with them.”

In November 2015, in Lisbon, GMTCM Park co-organised the Culture and Traditional Chinese Medicine meeting which was the second of its kind. It sent a delegation to attend the meeting and visited the Direcção Geral de Saúde (the Portuguese Health Bureau), Instituto de Medicina Tradicional (the Institute of Traditional Medicine) of Portugal, Infarmed and Associação Portuguesa de Suplementos Alimentares (Portuguese Health Supplements Association) and other associations relating to herb medicine and TCM.

The meeting heard presentations of the latest advances in TCM, relevant scientific studies and clinical applications. The delegates discussed the best strategies to ensure sustainable globalization of TCM through compliance with international quality standards that can be verified.

“The PSC is a very good platform,” said Lu. “It covers a very wide area, with countries in Europe, Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. Everyone realises that quality and safety are key. We need to improve the understanding of the west.”

In June 2015, Macao hosted the first such meeting. It attracted over 150 experts in the field and representatives of famous traditional medicine companies from the mainland, Hong Kong, Portugal, Brazil, Angola and Mozambique.

On July 1st, the participants visited the park in Hengqin and studied the policies for admission and possibilities for co-operation.

Goals for 2016

In 2016, the development company will continue the construction work of the park. It will contact major companies and small and medium-size enterprises to invite them to invest and strengthen its co-operation with government and academic institutions.

It will also through international exchanges expand its contacts with the PSCs. (Macao Magazine, by Mark O´Neill, photos Eric Tam and GCS)