Have you ever been tempted to try acupuncture, a traditional Asian therapy using stainless steel needles? Maybe yes, but you didn't like the idea to have a bunch of needles planted in your body. But what if acupuncture effects were accomplished through the ingestion of a pill? A Singapore-based firm aims to put power of acupuncture in a pill, according to TODAY, a Singapore newspaper. And the story is now corroborated by Associated Press. The first target for this pill is to heal migraine sufferers, a worldwide market of US$3 billion annually. But don't rush to your drugstore yet. The company, Molecular Acupuncture, expects to identify the gene responsible for acupuncture healing by 2006 and will put the pill on the market around 2014.
Here is some background.
Headquartered in Singapore with a grant from the Economic Development Board, the biotech company -- which has a panel of French directors and international representation on its board[, including Nobel laureate Dr George Charpak] -- was set up with initial capital of US$1.5 million ($2.5 million). Another US$20 million worth of investment is to come over the next three years.
Said its chief executive David Picard: "What we aim to do is to use the western clinical approach and biotechnology to understand the underlying mechanisms of acupuncture and to offer it in a western delivery format to patients."
With acupuncture in a pill, the company hopes to overcome challenges such as cultural and psychological barriers. A pill will also end the inconvenience of long-term acupuncture treatment as clinics are not accessible to everyone.
Even if acupuncture therapy is efficient, nobody really knows how it works.
Molecular Acupuncture aims to produce such results. It will then begin developing compounds or therapeutic proteins with the ability to mimic the actions of acupuncture in these pathways. These compounds or proteins will eventually be developed into commercial drugs.
The company expects to identify the first gene responsible for acupuncture healing by 2006. By the following year, it aims to select the best molecules for developing the acupuncture-mimicking drugs. The pill is expected to hit the market in 2014. Said Mr Picard: "We want it to be highly effective with no side-effects; to offer patients the choice between pins or pills."
The Associated Press story focuses on the future effects of this pill for migraine healing.
Tests on the pills are ongoing, and the pill is initially designed to cure migraines by "mimicking the effects of acupuncture," Molecular Acupuncture chief executive David Picard said.
By the end of the study in 2006, scientists would have collated blood samples from over 1,600 migraine sufferers in Singapore and China that will help identify genes and proteins that react to acupuncture, Picard said.
"The research is focused on understanding, from a biological standpoint, what acupuncture does in our body," he said. The pill is designed to simulate a biological reaction similar that of acupuncture needles, he said.
In its future plans, the company expects to develop pills to treat depression and addiction. But I bet we will have to wait for a while.
Sources: Tan Hui Leng, TODAY, Singapore, via Channel News Asia, July 22, 2004; Ansley Ng, Associated Press, via Las Vegas Sun, July 31, 2004