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Chinese Fungus Could Create $5 Billion Drug

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Every once in a while I stumble across a Bloomberg headline that is just so damn weird and awkwardly phrased I can’t help but dive in. Today’s winner? “Himalayan Fungus Aids Mitsubishi Tanabe Sales With Multiple Sclerosis Drug.”

Here's the story.

Back in 1985, Tetsuro Fujita was studying a Himalayan fungus that had been used in traditional herbal medicine in China for, you know, ever, I guess. Long story short, Fujita discovered that the fungus had an immune suppressing property that in turn helped to create Gilenya, a multiple sclerosis treatment. Now, that drug stands to bring in annual sales of $5 billion.

Gilenya was made by Mitsubishi Tanabe and was licensed to Novartis. Projected sales of the drug would rank it among the 10 best-selling medicines worldwide, according to Bloomberg.

It’s also great news for patients with MS. Gilenya is taken orally, as opposed to current medications which require injection therapy. The drug has received approval in the US and is expected to be approved in Europe within 3 months.

Back in September, the New York Times reported that bringing Gilenya to market would be a boon to Novartis, who had been competing with Merck to be the first company to release an oral MS drug.

So what’s the science behind this fungal discovery? Bloomberg reports:

“The scientists began studying in 1986 the Cordyceps fungus known in Chinese and Japanese as “winter insect, summer plant,” so called because it invades insect larva during winter and grows out of the host by summer.

Fujita said he was inspired by the discovery of ciclosporin, also derived from a fungus, which spurred research into how the immune system may be subdued in transplant patients. Fujita, now a professor emeritus at Kyoto University, said he was unaware the immune-modulating properties of Cordyceps could eventually help multiple sclerosis patients.
Who knew that fungus could be so great? And, of course, the best news of all is that thanks to science you can get all the benefits of Cordyceps by swallowing this:

Instead of this:

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