The end of 2015 has a seen a new study being commenced in Sydney to ascertain if a Chinese herbal formula may benefit people afflicted with dementia. This research has had a mixed response from the general Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) profession which is now part of Australian Practitioner Regulation Agency (APHRA) with its own Chinese medicine board.
We will look at the research to ascertain if the three million dollars being spent will be of the best benefit to sufferers of dementia.
The news of the research was presented on SBS, an Australian news station in November 2015 who revealed that nearly 350,000 Australians suffer from dementia. In the USA, according to the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention, Pennsylvania, it is thought that 5,000,000 people are affected by dementia. The National Institute of Complimentary Medicine says that there are nearly 50,000,000 people world wide with dementia. Dr Ginni Mansberg on her interview on Sunrise reported that there has been no progress in any western medical treatment for dementia and thinks that it is a desperate measure to look at this herbal formula being able to help dementia. She also says that 200 people involved in the study is too small a number to be able to convince doctors that it could be of benefit.
Why do the trial in China and Australia concurrently?
The study will also involve another 500 people but it will be in China. In the western world, the medical fraternity generally doesn’t take research from China seriously, especially if it involves acupuncture or Chinese herbs. It would be far cheaper to do the research in Australia than the USA because researchers in the USA are paid a lot more. The end result though,would be that that US doctors would still pay attention to the results of the study. Research that comes out of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK for some reason always seems more credible, especially compared to any medical research coming out of China.
What is in the formula?
The Chinese herbal dementia formula is called Sailuotong (SLT) and has apparently been scientifically evaluated and developed and already been trialed and used in China for 10 years.
The formula contains just 3 herbs, ginseng, saffron and ginkgo.
Historically in China, herbs have always been used in formulations as opposed just using a single herb.
The National Institute of Complementary Medicine says “… in Chinese medicine, the combination of several herbal compounds which work together to address different causes and symptoms of a disease is common“. The Institute does however, fail to point out that that Chinese herbs also can have antagonistic reactions with one another. Traditional Chinese medicine herbal texts have documented over many centuries how certain herbs can be antagonistic if used together. My own personal experience as a TCM practitioner has the view that using saffron and bai guo (ginkgo nut) together can have an antagonistic reaction. I will be curious if the research may result in problems with the tonsils, part of the lymphatic system. The SLT formula does however contain ginkgo leaf (and not the nut). Ginkgo is now grown in huge abundance in China for the western world market.
Do all Chinese herbalists think these three herbs are the answer to dementia?
Could it be that these three magic bullet herbs could turn the tide in the battle for the treatment of dementia? We ask Mark Crain, a registered Chinese herbalist based in Brisbane, what he thinks could be the potential of using these herbs in the treatment of memory problems. “Researching ginseng, saffron and ginkgo for memory and dementia would be about as novel as researching the use ma huang for wheezing and asthma”. He was not surprised to learn that the researchers at Western Sydney University were not TCM practitioners at all, but specialists in pharmacology and geriatrics. Mark Crain further says “If this pill is intended to be marketed to doctors, it was indeed a clever move on behalf of Shineway. Doctors will always view research from their own colleagues more seriously“.
Why pick ginseng, saffron and ginkgo?
Others have suggested that this formula is actually a well designed herbal combination researched by marketeers as opposed to scientists. All three herbs are so well known to westerners and all three herbs have already been researched on an individual basis, which is all great for future advertising and marketing. It will be like putting vitamins in the same pill as minerals. These three time proven and scientifically evaluated herbs all together in the one pill. And everyone knows how good ginseng is and everyone has heard about ginkgo. I should contact Shineway Pharmaceuticals and ask to be their marketing manager! I would suggest making an advertisement to the background music of Donovan’s Mello Yellow.
Are there other Chinese herbal medicine alternatives to SLT already on the market?
Even before the results of the research have come out, I am already getting phone calls from desperate people asking if I can get SLT for them. The Australian Acupuncture And Chinese Medicine Association in a very polite way, made a comment on their Facebook page in reference to SLT – “Prescribing Chinese Herbal medicine prescriptions need to be tailored to suit individual needs to be able to work effectively for individuals“. I have also tried in vain to explain to patients that traditional Chinese medicine involves individual treatment for individual people. The book, The Treatment of Modern Medical Diseases with Chinese Medicine by Bob Flaws, has an extensive chapter on the diagnosis and treatment involved in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
What does traditional Chinese medicine treatment for dementia involve?
This would require the patient seeking the expertise of a qualified and Registered or Licensed TCM practitioner and the treatment would be different for each individual. It would not be the one same pill for everyone with dementia. A course of treatment would vary week to week or month to month. In Bob Flaws’ book, there are dozens of formulas and potentially hundreds of variations of additions and subtractions to the formulae. Each patient would be assessed, diagnosed and then monitored as the treatment course progresses and the treatment altered and modified as time passes. Perhaps someone could suggest to Bob Flaws to shorten the chapter on dementia to just one sentence.
Why does this dementia research not take other herbal formula into account?
The main answer is money. To run a large study utilizing qualified and registered TCM practitioners doing individual assessment, diagnosis and treatments over a course of a year on a large number of patients would cost so much more than just collating data for one pill. The end result would show that individual tailor made treatments would work best. And pharmacists and geriatric specialists who don’t have training in traditional Chinese medicine then wouldn’t necessarily be required. There would be no point in Shineway Pharmaceuticals or any company for that matter donating research funds if they weren’t going to make a profit out of it in the end.
Will this magic bullet pill be able to deliver profit to the shareholders?
The sad reality is that many patients just want a pill and in this case the herbal company Shineway Pharmaceuticals will deliver just that.
If the Sydney research can demonstrate that the effect of taking SLT is a mere 0.05 % greater than the placebo, then it can be marketed as being significantly better than the placebo. And with nearly 50,000,000 people as a potential market, that is a lot of pills that could be sold.
I suspect that SLT will have the potential to follow the same financial success of NeuroAiD™, a herbal compound available from a Singapore based company. NeuroAiD™ is basically just Bu Yang Huan Wu Tang, a classic Chinese herbs formula that treats hemiplegia as a result of stroke. The company simply just added a few extra herbs and stuck it in a capsule, gave it a special name then marked it up in price 10,000 %. With 50,000,000 people worldwide with dementia as a potential market, I am sure the accountants at Shineway Pharmaceuticals using their abacus ran out of space when they tried to forecast future profits from selling an incredibly marked up SLT.
Is the SLT research in line with Shineway Pharmaceutical’s plan for the future?
In their 2015 shareholders report, Shineway Pharmaceutical reported an AUD 80 million profit. So the 3 million that they have provided Western Sydney University is less than 3 percent, a small price to pay for the potential huge profits of future sales of SLT. In their report they say, some of their goals for 2016 are
- Reinforce academic marketing, complete the academic promotion system of full products with academic marketing oriented
- Strengthen the development of new products on the market, focusing on cultivating exclusive new products, increase efforts to promote and enhance the proportion of sales of new products
- and promote the coverage and sales volume of the fundamental pharmaceutical products
The shareholders of Shineway Pharmaceuticals have put their hope into the whitecoats at Western Sydney University to achieve the above goals. Shineway Pharmaceuticals is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (2877) if you want to keep track of their price. The company is incorporated in the Cayman Islands.
I consulted with a New Zealand based professional investor, who wishes to remain anonymous, to ask his opinion about companies registered in the Cayman islands. He said “Companies listed in Hong Kong have to report on the profit of it’s subsidiaries which in this case will be offshore via the Caymen Islands. If this company is paying the 15% tax rate in Hong Kong on reported gross profit from subsidiaries, the gross profit may or may not be true. Quite often the accounts from the Cayman Islands are not audited and even if they were, I would not trust the audit. Often the reported sales & profit in Hong Kong can also quite often be fictitious“.
We have a Hong Kong listed company registered in the Cayman Islands for obvious tax avoidance reasons. The company specialises in re-branding existing traditional formulae or herbs and modernising them up a bit. They also sell aspirin. They have provided 3 million dollars to Sydney researchers in anticipation to demonstrate that their dementia pill can be 0.05 % better than a placebo. It contains exotic and expensive herbs that can be then marked up in price tremendously for the dementia sufferers in the western world to buy.
If only someone could suggest to the caregivers of Malcolm Young to seek the services of Kevin Lu in Sydney’s Chinatown for some real Chinese herbal treatment, Malcolm would likely be back in the studio with Angus long before the results of this SLT study come out.
Disclosure- Expression of non-interest: Even though I keep hearing the mantra from Gordon Gecko in my head ” Greed is good, greed is good” and knowing that this research was approved by the Human Ethics Committees of Western Sydney University, I have to draw the line somewhere and stick to the ideals of being a TCM practitioner and choose to treat individuals with individual treatment. I won’t be investing in any shares with Shineway Pharmaceuticals.