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Exploring the effectiveness of traditional Chinese medicine against COVID-19

Posted on March 18th, 2020 by in COVID-19

With the continued fatal spread of COVID-19 and no cure at hand, Chinese doctors are looking to pharmaceutical drugs and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) alike to explore possibilities for treatment as well as prevention. According to Nature, traditional therapies are included among the many clinical trials that are running or pending in China right now. But there is concern that rigorous standards need to be set, to ensure the trial results can be trusted.

TCM in clinical trials

This Chinese clinical trial registry website was showing more than 428 clinical studies registered as of March 15.

(Image shows the daily registration number at the trial registry)

84 studies are using TCM solely or using integrated TCM and Western medicine for treatment (amounting to 20%), and seven studies aim to be prevention studies.

TCM substances currently being used in clinical trials include the likes of Polygonum cuspidatum (also known as Asian knotweed), Honeysuckle, Nepeta and Ligustrum lucidum (an evergreen tree), to name just a few. There are literally thousands of years of Chinese medicinal practice to draw from in designing these studies.

And there are already seem to be some promising results. At a recent press conference in Guangzhou, Chinese respiratory specialist Zhong Nanshan said that an herbal prescription called “Pneumonia No. 1” has shown to be effective in treating COVID-19 patients. Existing TCM drugs are also in the process of being tested on the virus. 

A systematic review examining TCM and COVID-19 prevention

With so many treatments still in development, there are prevention-focused programs that have been recommending Chinese medicine as well. A systematic review has been published which, looking at ancient classics, research evidence and current prevention programs, asks the question: Can Chinese medicine be used for the prevention of COVID-19?

The authors’ review led them to the conclusion that: “Based on historical records and human evidence of SARS and H1N1 influenza prevention, Chinese herbal formula could be an alternative approach for prevention of COVID-19 in high-risk population. Prospective, rigorous population studies are warranted to confirm the potential preventive effect of CM.”

The role of scientific literature

Critical to running clinical trials and conducting systematic reviews like the one above is the ability to retrieve evidence of TCM from the literature. This means availability of literature (via publishers) and the availability of a taxonomy for recognizing and organizing the TCM-subject relevant articles is important. Elsevier has been partnering with Beijing University of Chinese Medicine to improve the TCM taxonomy in Embase, and recently released a branch of the TCM taxonomy.

To learn more about Embase and how it empowers evidence-based medicine practices for TCM, click here.

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