From Reveries Magazine:
"Chinese and Western specialists approach pharmacology from very different angles," but Novartis is hoping to find new cures by encouraging Sino-American collaborations, reports Nichcolas Zamiska in The Wall Street Journal (11/15/06). "For centuries, Chinese doctors have tinkered with different mixtures of medicines, guided in part by trial-and-error, to see which ones are the most effective. Working with that body of knowledge, they operate on the assumption that the traditional remedies work, even if by Western scientific standards it's not completely clear why." So, they know the cure works, but they don't know which "target it hits."
Western researchers, meanwhile, "often begin the search for a drug by identifying a target, and then looking for a chemical compound that has the desired effect. If they do find a drug that works, they usually understand the mechanisms behind it. That helps in refining the compound to make it more effective and in convincing regulatory authorities ... that the medicine is safe and effective." So, Novartis has hired a botanist to venture into remote regions in areas such as China's Xinjiang province, "to ferret out rare plants and herbs traditionally used in treatments for ailments ranging from aches and pains to cancer."
Novartis hopes that if it can "isolate the particular compounds active in the Chinese traditional medicines by testing the raw extracts from the plants" Shen Jingui collects, the result will be "a new generation of blockbusters to fight diseases such as Alzheimer's." So far, Jingui "has provided around 1,000 natural products." Of those, a total of nine "have shown particular promise against specific disease targets and two have been selected for further study." That hit rate is actually pretty good as compared to traditional research methods. The cost involved is also relatively small.
I say whatever works is great and if it is all natural, all the better.