UK pharm has high hope in new TCM dementia drug



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June 23, 2007  
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Anemarrhena Rhizome (zhi muCM NEWS – A group of Chinese scientists has finished pre-clinical research for its new anti-dementia drug, dubbed NJS, which is derived from traditional Chinese medicine substances. NJS has just become the first TCM drug that its patent licence is being sold to a UK pharmaceutical firm.

According to Xinhua, NJS was a result of 10 years of rigourous research and trials by a group led by Ma Baiping of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences (AMMS) of the People’s Liberation Army.

Ma’s research has been around a Chinese medicine drug Anemarrhena Rhizome (zhi mu, ??, picture), which is known for its effects of lowering blood sugar levels, as well as its antipyretic, sedative and antibiotic functions.

Ma’s team has been able to purify a substance called timosaponin B II in zhi mu and the process of its preparation has been patented with a number of countries, including one with Health Canada. The patented process is said to be “simple and applicable and suitable for industrial production.”

How does timosaponin B II (TB-II) work? In a study to be published this month in the Neuroscience letters, a group of scientists in Shanghai present the first evidence of a neuroprotective effect of TB-II in the model of vascular dementia.

In this study, rats with vascular dementia induced by influencing the middle cerebral artery were given TB-II. Daily oral administration of TB-II at two different dose levels of 100 and 200mg/kg resulted in a significant improvement of the deficit in the learning of the water maze task, beginning 14 days after ischemia.

TB-II treatment also significantly reversed the ischemia-induced retention deficit. Meanwhile, the expression of interleukin-10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine, and its receptor were significantly increased in TB-II treated vascular dementia rats.

The researchers suggest that the anti-dementia effect by TB-II is derived at least in part from its anti-inflammatory properties.

[Neurosci Lett. 2007 Jun 27;421(2):147-51.]

Under the deal, the AMMS academy will sell the patent licence to U.K.-based Phytopharm plc, disclose key NJS technologies, and relyon the pharmaceutical firm to do clinical trials and promote the product in the international market.”This is the first time China has sold a TCM patent licence to a foreign firm and it represents a major stride toward international credibility,” said AMMS President Sun Jianzhong.The deal gives TCM a better chance of penetrating the international market, he added.

Pre-clinical results were very “exciting”, he said, and he had an optimistic forecast for the new medicine.

According to a report by the Chemistry World, Ma Baiping noted that the 10-year study of the compound had revealed its activity in the brains of animal models: increasing blood flow to the brain, reducing inflammation and stimulating nerve cell growth, and significantly improving memory in rats. ‘We believe it is a highly promising drug candidate for dementia,’ Ma told Chemistry World.

The collaboration and license agreement between Beijing Institute of Radiation Medicine and Phytopharm extends to other patented compounds that may have potential in other disease areas, such as vascular disease and stroke.

When it began laboratory research, the AMMS patented NJS both in China and in its potential markets such as Europe, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States.

“China’s TCM manufacturers are now more aware of patent protection,” Sun said.

Phytopharm chief executive officer Dr. Daryl Rees said that western countries have some negative perceptions of TCM. Many TCM drugs contain ingredients that can not be identified by western pharmaceutical standards, making them still very hard to get market entry approval as new herbal drugs.They have a very different concept on TCM products’ being safe, effective and controllable, Ma said.

“Foreign firms can adopt a global approach in clinic research of NJS as well as its market strategy, helping find a new way for TCM to enter the international market,” said Ma.

Linking up with an overseas company that can carry out clinical research and market promotion will help boost the credibility of TCM in the international market, Rees said.

Both sides declined to disclose the value of the deal.

Phytopharm has not publicised how much it paid for the license, although chief executive officer Daryl Rees said it was ‘millions and millions’ of pounds.

‘We think the investment is worthwhile, as it opens a door to the huge treasures of traditional Chinese medicines,’ said Rees, adding that such a deal would have been impossible without the rising awareness among Chinese scientists and their institutes of the benefits of patenting research findings in a mature intellectual property system.

Dementia is a condition characterized by a progressive decline of mental abilities — including loss of memory — accompanied by changes in personality and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.

With ageing populations swelling worldwide, the potential for a holistic new dementia treatment is enormous.