In DepthDRUG DISCOVERY

Nobel for antimalarial drug highlights East-West divide

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Science  16 Oct 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6258, pp. 265
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6258.265

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Summary

The question at last week's press conference announcing the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine sparked a frisson of tension in the staid Stockholm hall. Referring to the award of half of the prize to pharmacologist Youyou Tu for deriving the antimalarial drug artemisinin from a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a Chinese reporter asked: "Can we say this is the first time you award [recognition to] TCM?" "We are not giving a prize to traditional medicine," shot back Hans Forssberg, a member of the selection committee. Traditional medicine was a source of inspiration, he explained, but the prize was for discovering a new drug. In fact, the award exposes a widening rift between the biomedical mainstream and proponents of alternative therapies such as TCM, which is based on principles dating back 2000 years.

  • * Shanghai, China

    With reporting by Hao Xin.