Herbs for the gut: new drug for irritable bowel syndrome

22 March 2019

Constantly struggling with abdominal pain and constipation or diarrhoea? Scientists from two Hong Kong universities have developed a Chinese herbal formula that offers hope to patients with irritable bowel syndrome.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects around 10 to 20 per cent of people worldwide. IBS patients have sensitive bowels that are easily upset, resulting in cramping and alternating diarrhoea and constipation. Triggers vary from person to person and doctors can only prescribe medication to manage the symptoms of IBS or ask the patient to change their lifestyle.

A herbal formula, JCM-16021, was developed by an integrative research team led by Professor Justin Wu (Croucher Fellowship 1999), of the Institute of Digestive Disease, Faculty of Medicine, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Professor Bian Zhaoxiang, of Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Chinese Medicine.

Taking reference from a traditional Chinese medicine formula, JCM-16021 was shown to reduce visceral hypersensitivity, diarrhoea symptoms and intestinal movement and spasm.

The new formula contains Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae (Bai Zhu/白朮), Radix Paeoniae Lactiflorae (Bai Shao/白芍), Cortex Magnoliae Officinalis (Hou Po/厚樸), Semen Coicis Lachryma-Jobi (Yi Yi Ren /薏苡仁), Polygonaceae (Huo Tan Mu/火炭母), Fructus Terminaliae Chebulae (He Zi/訶子) and Rhizoma Corydalis Yanhusuo (Yan Hu Suo/延胡索).

A Chinese patent has been granted and the team has received approval from the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) and a Certificate for Clinical Trial/Medicinal Test from the HKSAR Department of Health to commence Phase II clinical trials in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Results from the 18-week trial will be used to register the new drug, enabling JCM-16021 to be offered as a treatment for IBS in Greater China and around the world.

Professor Justin Wu is an internationally renowned gastroenterologist with expertise in functional gastrointestinal disorder and gastroesophageal reflux disease. He has authored over 200 publications and is a recipient of the Emerging Leader in Gastroenterology Award from the Asian Pacific Association of Gastroenterology. Professor Wu obtained his medical degree from Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) with a Distinction in Medicine in 1993. He completed specialist training in gastroenterology under the mentorship of Professor Joseph Sung, former President of CUHK. In 2000, he pursued training in advanced gastrointestinal motility at Royal Adelaide Hospital with support from a Croucher Fellowship.

To view Professor Wu’s Croucher profile, please click here.