The Washington Post reports that the US government spent an eye-popping $2.5bn over the last decade on testing alternative therapies and medicines. The results were not encouraging though critics suggest that the testing process was flawed.
Be that as it may, this brought me to wonder – as I have for a while – why Indian companies and the government don’t collaborate on clinical trials of Ayurvedic/herbal medicines. While these medicines claim to be based on our Ayurvedic texts, it is also true that manufacturers have improvised in a number of ways either to enhance efficacy or to claim “proprietary” benefits that allow them to differentiate themselves and/or charge a premium. But these products are not always adequately tested.
Of course, the government could mandate clinical trials as one recent article written by my colleague Noemie Bisserbe in Businessworld says it will do. Yet, most companies are unlikely to be able to cough up the money nor do they have the expertise to perform trials – or at least those that will bear genuine scientific scrutiny.
Instead, it makes eminent sense for the government and industry to pick broad categories of products and jointly bankroll trials as well as set up a mechanism to perform them on par with international standards. The fact that some of these already have a documented history in our texts will clearly help choose an abbreviated method that does not take years to complete.
Experts have long argued that the model of testing and evaluating allopathic medicines cannot be transposed onto ayurvedic drugs. But that is precisely why we should explore how best to go about testing them in a credible, cost-effective manner.
This will achieve two purposes. It will ensure that products sold to Indian consumers are helping, and not harming them. Two, there is a huge global market for adequately-tested herbal products which our companies can tap into.
This subject is close to my heart not just because it represents a vast, untapped potential for our companies. I have often relied on herbal medicines to solve vexing health problems that allopathy has no answers for. They often work but there is a lingering doubt about whether they have done any damage that will surface – perhaps not immediately, but eventually.