Adding Innovation to Ayurveda!

Adding Innovation to Ayurveda! It is indeed interesting to know that the traditional Indian medicine system is undergoing a revamp. A news report very aptly titled How green is this medicine captures the views of Ayurvedic practitioners and the herbal drug industry in the wake of a recent amendment in the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.
A notification from Ministry of Health, Department of AYUSH dated 23rd October 2008 notifies about the amendment brought in the Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945. The Drugs and Cosmetics (Second Amendment) Rules, 2008 substitutes Rule 169 of The Drug and Cosmetics Rules 1945 thereby permitting use of excipients along with their standard i.e. additives, preservatives, antioxidants, flavouring agents, chelating agents for use in Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani drugs (The use of exciepients is permitted on a condition that it is permissible under the Indian Pharmocopia as well as under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 and Bureau of Indian Standards, 1986).
The term ‘Ayurveda’ broadly, according to Sebastian Pole in his book “Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principals of Traditional Practice”, is understood as a generic term for traditional Indian medicine but also including aspects of philosophy, mythology, diet and yoga as well as mental and spiritual refinement as part of its teachings. The author further writes that Ayurveda focuses on preventing disease and optimizing vitality as much as on removing an illness therefore having a bearing on a holistic approach to health where mind body and spirit are considered to be an integrated whole.
In the light of this quite broad understanding of Ayurveda, let us see what the stakeholders say.
The news report tells that permitted use of additives and preservatives in Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani drugs has raised concern over preservation of the unique organic composition in such medicines. Some ayurvedic practitioners believe that, synthetic additives, apart from being detrimental to health, if used in large quantities may deprive the product from being an ayurvedic drug. While the other side believes that scientific innovation in Ayurveda is essential to improve upon the medicines as a product holistically leading to an effective marketability of the product.
So which way the balance should tilt? Does Ayurveda, in its holistic approach to health, incorporates the notions of scientific innovation based on effective marketability? Coco Chanel, the famous fashion designer, once said – In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different. Taking cue from this quote one is tempted to ask a question – Is Ayurveda in its quest to be irreplaceable taking the ‘innovation route’ for market share. The issue of market share arises as figures from the news report reveal that in the estimated global market for Ayurveda which is worth $120 billion, India’s ayurveda exports are a mere $91 million. China and Sri Lanka lead the world in Ayurveda manufacture and export.
Ayurveda embraces the health (ârogya) of the body as its main aim and it is also true that innovating on a product to suit ever changing market demands is essential. Thus, in this perspective scientific innovation in Ayurveda seems appropriate but one has to tread a thin line. Ayurvedic drug improved upon without changing the basic composition, for which the drug is known for, may be the correct approach for mixing innovation with Ayurveda. This approach while capturing the philosophy of Ayurveda, has the added advantage of market suitability and also catching up with the competition.
The inherent facet of innovation on products to adapt to a changing marketplace is to capitalize on the traditional knowledge (TK). Capitalizing on innovating within traditional knowledge is also reflected in the patent application for a process for preparing an improved chyawanprash having higher nutrient value, rejuvenating and anti-aging properties (Patent Application No. 000004/KOL/2006A).
Chyawanprash is a popular ayurvedic formulation having Indian Gooseberry (Amla; biological name: Emblica Officianlis) as a major ingredient. Amla fruit is rich in many desirable properties. It was described in a 7th century Ayurvedic medical text.
A discussion on innovation and TK cannot be conclusive without looking at the protection of intellectual property (IP) created. The abstract of the patent application for a process for preparing an improved Chyawanprash reveals that the process, in effect, is a method involving cutting, roasting and mixing of dry fruits and then adding it to the Chyawanprash, which under Section 3(p) of Patents Act 1970 (as amended in 2005) is not an invention. The process involving cutting, roasting and mixing of dry fruits and then adding it to Chyawanprash is an aggregation of traditional knowledge
According to section 3(p), an invention which in effect, is traditional knowledge or which is an aggregation or duplication of known properties of traditionally known component or components is not a patentable invention. Here hence not an invention.
Instances like above amply reflect on the significance of traditional knowledge. The importance lies in the fact that the development of traditional knowledge’s practical component, often as an intellectual response to the necessities of life warrants protection from misappropriation. Protecting traditional knowledge as an intellectual property through existing major IP systems is a challenge as they are based on notions of individual property ownership whereas traditional knowledge is collective in nature and is often considered the property of the entire community. As a response a number of countries have adapted existing intellectual property systems to the needs of traditional knowledge holders through a sui generis measure of traditional knowledge protection. An IP system is made a sui generis one through modification of some of its features so as to properly accommodate the special characteristics of its subject matter, and the specific policy needs which leads to the establishment of a distinct system. When policymakers seek to develop a sui generis system for the protection of traditional knowledge, they generally need to consider the following issues:
v What is the (policy) objective of the protection?
v What subject matter should be protected?
v What criteria should this subject matter meet to be protected?
v Who are the beneficiaries of protection?
v What are the rights?
v How are the rights acquired?
v How are the rights administered and enforced?
v How are the rights lost or how do they expire? [i]
Application of intellectual property protection for an element of traditional knowledge with inbuilt adaptation to cultural characteristics and community goals is realistic but can the subject matter of scientific innovations based on market compatibilities become a part of traditional knowledge realm is an issue.
Traditional knowledge is dynamic in nature and continues to evolve. The experience and adaptation to a local culture and environment, developed over time, continues to develop due to experimentation and integration. Scientific innovation, if not adverse, may only add to the existing knowledge. The sui generis system, in addition to maintaining the specific policy objectives, may integrate innovation with the existing knowledge by including a process of an evaluation of the possible benefits or any consequence of such innovation through working with the members of the community. The evaluation, as a process, can possibly look for innovating on the product to suit market demands. This may also take the form of a kind of incentive for the market to take an interest in preserving and also improving upon the traditional knowledge.
Innovation on market demands without distortion of the original attributes will positively encourage the traditional knowledge holding communities towards effective commercialization of their traditional knowledge. Innovation is an integral feature of human existence and traditional knowledge innovated upon, albeit to suit market, cannot be negated.

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1 thought on “Adding Innovation to Ayurveda!”

  1. Excellent Post..

    I was also delighted to meet someone, once en route Mumbai to home who was an Ayurvedic Oncologist.. I also learnt of someone this morning.. whose cancereous condition was improving.. thanks to their decsion to resort to Ayurveda..

    Yes with the increasing awareness of the no. of diseases , their kinds and causes, Ayurveda and traditional medicine should be protected in its root while being allowed to undergo innovation… and commercialised for the larger benifit of soceity

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