Like the Japanese language, herbal medicines originating in China have been adapted into something peculiarly Japanese.
Chinese herbal remedies, known as “kampo” in Japan, have been adopted and adapted by Japanese pharmaceutical companies, which use herbal materials and prescription methods imported from China.
In a bid to differentiate themselves from Chinese dispensers, who prescribe the remedies in line with tradition and based on experience, Japanese pharmaceutical firms claim their kampo medicines have been developed and produced on the basis of scientific data.
Tsumura & Co., Japan’s largest kampo medicine manufacturer, has established a joint venture with Chinese partners to construct a plant in China, preparing to enter the market there with its version of Chinese-style medicines.
The joint venture, Shanghai Tsumura Pharmaceuticals Co., established in July 2001, is building the 3.7 billion yen plant in Shanghai.
“Our Chinese plant will open in the fall of 2004,” said Haruyoshi Kodaira, a Tsumura public relations director. “It will be one of Tsumura’s largest plants.”
Tsumura said the plant will have around the same annual output capability as one of its plants in Ibaraki or Shizuoka prefectures. The Ibaraki plant churns out 600 tons of powdered extract — materials for kampo medicines — each year.
Tsumura imports about 80 percent of its kampo materials from China, including those cultivated by the company. The Chinese plant will help Tsumura decrease production and distribution costs in Japan.
“The plant in China will primarily produce kampo medicines for the Japanese market, but we are also considering entering the Chinese market with products made at the plant,” Kodaira said.
Kodaira said the firm is also considering entering the U.S. market.
Tsumura has been trying to expand the kampo medicine market in Japan. The company holds 77 percent of the nation’s 90.2 billion yen kampo medicine market targeting hospitals.
Kampo remedies account for just 1.3 percent of the nation’s medicine market, Kodaira said. Many doctors are unfamiliar with the applications of herbal remedies, he added.
Tsumura holds seminars for doctors and medical school students to educate them in uses of kampo.
After examining the color of a patient’s face or tongue, doctors could make a diagnosis and prescribe kampo medicine, Kodaira said.
“More and more universities with medical departments have come to re-evaluate the effects of kampo medicines,” he said.
A total of 71 universities nationwide held programs for Kampo medicines in March 2003, up from 47 in 1998, Kodaira said. In 2004, 80 universities are expected to hold kampo medicine courses.
Tsumura is also trying to develop easier ways for doctors to use kampo medicines.
Tsumura and Toyama Medical and Pharmaceutical University in Toyama Prefecture have been jointly conducting research since October 2001, examining patients who took kampo remedies to facilitate blood circulation.
The patients have a protein in their blood that has never been seen in the blood of healthy people, according to the research team. Doctors could use this knowledge to prescribe kampo medicines after checking the level of this protein in a patient’s blood.
“The market volume of kampo medicine in Japan can expand further,” Kodaira said. “We will continue activities for the promotion of kampo medicines.”