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US Health Agency Says Traditional Chinese Medicine Can Help COVID-19 Patients Recover Faster

US Health Agency Says Traditional Chinese Medicine Can Help COVID-19 Patients Recover Faster
Photo taken by The Philippine STAR’s Edd Gumban shows Lianhua Qingwen capsules being sold in Manila on Aug. 13, 2020.

The United States’ National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCIB) stated in a May 16 study that the traditional Chinese medicine Lianhua Qingwen (also Lianhuaqingwen) “could be considered to ameliorate clinical symptoms” of coronavirus disease 2019.

According to the NCIB, which is part of the United States National Library of Medicine, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, 284 COVID-19 patients were randomized to receive the usual treatment alone or in combination with Lianhua Qingwen, with four capsules taken three times a day for 14 days.

“The primary endpoint was the rate of symptom (fever, fatigue, coughing) recovery,” NCIB said.

It reported that “overall,” the 14-day treatment using the Chinese herbal medication for 142 patients “resulted in a significantly higher rate of, and a shorter time to, symptom recovery than the control group” of 142 patients who received the usual treatment without Lianhua Qingwen.

“The rate of recovery of fever, fatigue and coughing was also higher in treatment group,” the study read. “(Lianhua Qingwen) capsule had a favorable safety profile for the treatment of (COVID-19).”

“To our knowledge, this is the first multicenter randomized clinical trial that demonstrates the safety and efficacy” of Lianhua Qingwen capsules, the NCIB said.

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 has been shown to result in injuries to the respiratory tract, nervous system, liver, heart, esophagus, kidney, urinary bladder and the jejunum or the middle segment of the small intestine.

Based on a nationwide study with 1,099 COVID-19 patients from 552 hospitals throughout mainland China, the NCIB said those with fever accounted for 88.7 percent while those with cough accounted for 67.8 percent after hospital admission.

“In light of the lack of validated effective therapeutic approaches, the medications that could ameliorate fever, fatigue and coughing would be valuable for the clinical management of (COVID-19). (Lianhua Qingwen) capsules, which is a patented product, have been marketed since the outbreak of SARS in 2003 in China,” the NCIB said.

Overall, the NCIB concluded that the capsules shortened the duration of fever, fatigue and coughing by one, three and three days, respectively.

“The higher rate of clinical cure and recovery of chest CT (computed tomography) manifestations could also be associated with the activity against SARS-CoV-2, and probably, the anti-inflammatory effects. There was a lack of statistical significance for the difference in the rate of, and the time to, conversion of viral assays (or sample to measure virus quantity),” NCIB said.

The NCIB also discussed the key components of Lianhua Qingwen, including Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle and golden-and-silver honeysuckle) and Forsythia suspense, one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine that could block the binding of SARS-CoV-2 with the angiotensin-converting enzyme, which controls blood pressure by regulating the volume of fluids in the body.

“The exploration of repurposed Chinese herb product would be valuable to the treatment of (COVID-19) because, apart from convalescent plasma, no other medications with proven efficacy exist. Our findings indicated that (Lianhua Qingwen) capsules could be recommended to patients with (COVID-19) for reducing the symptom burden and improving clinical outcomes,” the NCIB said.

“However, there are some limitations of the study design. No blinding was implemented because of the urgency of the outbreak that entailed a timely treatment, and placebo-controlled trial would be unethical in light of the rapid outbreak of communicable diseases such as (COVID-19). The duration of treatment was established empirically, and whether a prolonged duration would translate into the greater efficacy warrants further investigation. An extended study would be needed to thoroughly explore the effects of (Lianhua Qingwen) capsules on the viral shedding and the resolution of all symptoms,” it added.

FDA clarification

In the Philippines, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clarified on Thursday, Aug. 13, that Lianhua Qingwen was approved not as a drug for COVID-19 treatment.

FDA director general Eric Domingo said Lianhua Qingwen was approved only as a traditional Chinese medicine and prescription drug, and not as a therapeutic drug.

“We approved it specifically for the indications stated in the CPR (certificate of product registration),” Domingo said.

The FDA stressed it is indicated in the CPR that the Chinese drug can help remove heat toxin invasion of the lungs, including symptoms such as fever, aversion to cold, muscle soreness, and stuffy and runny nose.

The Chinese embassy in Manila, however, expressed its government’s hope that the medicine would “contribute to the fight against the spread of COVID-19” in the Philippines.

Domingo said local distributors cannot place in the product’s label that it can be a cure for COVID-19.

He discounted the possibility that the Philippines might include the medicine in the protocol for treatment of mild COVID-19 patients in the immediate future.

“To have it included in the DOH (Department of Health) protocol will take a lot of health processes. It has to undergo health assessment, it has to be double-checked as a medicine,” Domingo explained.

He also noted that the drug manufacturer is restricted from putting in the packaging that it is an anti-COVID product because “there’s no medicine yet for us labeled” as such.

Read more: Chinese Traditional Medicine For COVID-19 Allowed In Phl; Russian Vaccine To Undergo Regulatory Processes