En­tre­pre­neur with ‘rev­o­lu­tion­ary rem­edy’ for TCM

China Daily (Canada) - - EXPATS - By KARL WIL­SON

karl­wil­son@ chi­nadai­lya­pac.com

When Abra­ham Chan walked out of the Univer­sity of Toronto in 1982 armed with an engi­neer­ing de­gree, he had no clear idea where it would take him.

He man­aged to se­cure work as a struc­tural en­gi­neer, but the young Chan was rest­less. He wanted more.

“I guess it was my en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit com­ing out in me,” he said shortly af­ter he de­liv­ered a speech ex­tolling the virtues of tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine be­fore an au­di­ence of health­care pro­fes­sion­als in Sydney. As the founder and chair­man of Pu­raPharm, Chan heads the fastest-grow­ing TCM com­pany in Hong Kong.

“When I left univer­sity, TCM had never en­tered my mind as a pos­si­ble ca­reer path,” he said.

Fol­low­ing grad­u­a­tion, Chan found him­self in the mid­dle of one of the big­gest real es­tate booms Canada has ever seen. Be­tween 1985 and 1989, the av­er­age price of a house in the greater Toronto area rose 113 per­cent.

Af­ter work­ing a couple of jobs, Chan got to­gether with two of his friends to go into the real es­tate bro­ker­age busi­ness. But like ev­ery­thing else in busi­ness, it is all about tim­ing. In 1990, the mar­ket crashed. “We had a few suc­cess­ful projects in Toronto where I earned my first bucket of gold ... al­beit a small bucket,” he said.

Be­ing the youngest mem­ber of the team, Chan was dis­patched to Hong Kong and the Chi­nese main­land to search out new real es­tate op­por­tu­ni­ties. But it was in a sec­tor other than property that he spot­ted an open­ing.

In 1991, while vis­it­ing his mother’s home­town of Guiyang in South­west China’s Guizhou prov­ince, a rel­a­tive showed him a fun­gus called lingzhi.

“Up un­til then I thought this mush­room-type herb only ex­isted in sto­ries which ex­tolled its mys­ti­cal pow­ers. I didn’t know it ac­tu­ally ex­isted,” Chan said. “That was my first ac­quain­tance with TCM.”

Lingzhi, or “su­per­nat­u­ral mush­room”, is of­ten re­ferred to in Chi­nese clas­si­cal texts as the “elixir of life”.

“The more I han­dled this herb, the more fas­ci­nated I be­came, so much so that I bought con­trol of a small Chi­nese com­pany, Wei­jang, in 1992 and started man­u­fac­tur­ing a sup­ple­ment us­ing lingzhi.”

That was the easy part. The hard part was sell­ing it, as Chan knew noth­ing about mar­ket­ing.

“I read ev­ery book I could find on mar­ket­ing and be­came pretty good at it,” he said. “When the sup­ple­ment hit the Hong Kong mar­ket, it be­came an in­stant suc­cess.

“That’s when I went from be­ing a pro­fes­sional struc­tural en­gi­neer to be­com­ing a medicine man,” he said, break­ing into a broad grin.

Born in Hong Kong in 1960, Chan spent his for­ma­tive years at­tend­ing La Salle Col­lege in the city. When he was 16, his fa­ther, a lo­cal businessman, died sud­denly.

“It was hard on all of us at the time, so mom, who has been the rock of our fam­ily, de­cided we should move to Canada to start a new life,” he said.

Chan’s in­ter­est in TCM did not stop with just a few sup­ple­ments.

“I wanted to take it to the next level,” he said. “I didn’t want to just man­u­fac­ture sup­ple­ments. I wanted to go into the more se­ri­ous side of TCM de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing new TCM drugs for pro­fes­sional use.”

Chan de­scribed the TCM in­dus­try in the early 1990s as “pretty prim­i­tive”. Back then, most pro­fes­sional prac­ti­tion­ers were pre­scrib­ing raw herbs to their pa­tients, who had to boil them at home be­fore they could take them.

“That greatly de­terred the de­vel­op­ment of TCM,” he ex­plained. “I wanted to em­bark on do­ing a project to im­prove the use of TCM in my com­pany, but my other share­hold­ers were skep­ti­cal about the idea.”

Chan was so ob­sessed with the idea of im­prov­ing the use of TCM that he sold his shares in his first com­pany, and formed an­other one in 1998 with a sole vi­sion of mod­ern­iz­ing Chi­nese medicine. Thus Pu­raPharm was formed.

Chan said Pu­raPharm has “rev­o­lu­tion­ized the use of TCM” and the con­cept is now suc­cess­ful in many parts of the world, with clin­ics in Aus­tralia, Canada and the United States, as well as in the Chi­nese main­land and Hong Kong.

In July, the com­pany suc­cess­fully listed on the Hong Kong Stock Ex­change.

To­day, Pu­raPharm is the only Hong Kong com­pany li­censed by the China Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and is one of only six man­u­fac­tur­ers in the main­land al­lowed to pro­duce and sell TCM prescription gran­ules.

The com­pany’s tour de force, Chan said, is its se­ries of in­stantly dis­solv­ing TCM prescription gran­ules mar­keted un­der the brand name Nong’s.

De­vel­oped in-house, Nong’s is by far the TCM brand most widely adopted by Hong Kong hos­pi­tals and ac­counts for more than 70 per­cent of the Hong Kong mar­ket.

When Chan set out to build Pu­raPharm, he re­al­ized that the key was re­search and de­vel­op­ment.

So he went to Hong Kong Bap­tist Univer­sity with re­search funds and car­ried out DNA anal­y­sis of lingzhi prod­ucts with the univer­sity’s In­sti­tute for the Ad­vance­ment of Chi­nese Medicine.

“Later we bought out the patent so ob­tained and launched Pu­raGold, a widely pop­u­lar health sup­ple­ment con­tain­ing the essence of six species of lingzhi,” he said. “This turned out to be a ma­jor step in the de­vel­op­ment of the com­pany.”

Pu­raPharm now pro­vides re­search funds to the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong and the Univer­sity of Hong Kong.

IP is vi­tal to the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try, Chan said. “With­out IP, our com­pany would not have the re­sults it has to­day,” he said.

Pu­raPharm owns more than 100 trade­marks and some 30 tech­nol­ogy patents. It also in­vests as much as HK$3 mil­lion to HK$5 mil­lion ($386,000 to $644,000) in patents and trade­marks ev­ery year.

The mod­ern TCM pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity the com­pany has set up in­de­pen­dently in Nan­ning not only meets Chi­nese Good Man­u­fac­tur­ing Prac­tice stan­dards, but has also achieved Aus­tralia’s Ther­a­peu­tic Goods Ad­min­is­tra­tion cer­ti­fi­ca­tion — the tough­est of its kind in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Chan puts his suc­cess down to hard work rather than luck. His life, how­ever, would have turned out dif­fer­ently if the Cana­dian real es­tate mar­ket had not crashed when it did.

“Per­haps TCM was my des­tiny ... who knows,” he said.

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