Yunnan Baiyao (or Yunnan Paiyao; simplified Chinese: 云南白药; traditional Chinese: 雲南白藥; pinyin: Yúnnán Báiyào; literally: ‘Yunnan White Drug’) is a well-known proprietary traditional Chinese medicine marketed and used as a hemostatic with use in both human and veterinary alternative medicine. There are multiple routes of drug administration. Administration of Yunnan Baiyao has been shown to “significantly reduced perioperative bleeding as well as bleeding in various ulcerative–hemorrhagic conditions”. There is limited evidence regarding its effectiveness in preventing or treating hemorrhagic and pathological conditions in both humans and animals via oral administration. Yunnan Baiyao is sold in powder, tincture, plaster, paste, aerosol, or tablet form. The medicine, developed by Qu Huangzhang in 1902, is designated as one of two Class-1 protected traditional Chinese medicines which gives it 20 years of trade protection in China. In China, its reputation is said to be equal to that of penicillin in the U.S. It is founded and manufactured by a state-owned enterprise, Yunnan Baiyao Group (SZSE: 000538) in Yunnan, China.
Yunnan Baiyao was developed by a Chinese man named Qu Huanzhang from Jiangchuan County in Yunnan Province. He had set out to explore the entire region and taste its hundreds of herbs. In 1902, he formulated “Qu Huanzhang Panacea” which became Yunnan Baiyao (“White medicine from Yunnan”) In the Battle of Taierzhuang of 1938 (between Chinese and Japanese forces), Mr. Qu Huanzhang donated more than 30,000 bottles of Yunnan Baiyao to the Chinese National Revolutionary Army, supposedly saving the lives of many soldiers.
As an indication of its value, it is noted that during the 1940s, army commander Wu Xuexian was seriously injured in his right leg. The French hospital in Kunming (capital of Yunnan) recommended amputation to save Wu’s life. Wu turned to Qu for help, and to everyone’s surprise, recovered without the need for an amputation. Yunnan Baiyao gained the reputation as a miracle remedy. After the death of Qu, his wife, Liao Lanying, donated the secret prescription to the government.
In 1935, pharmacist Qu Huanzhang registered a trademark using his own image. This was Yunnan Baiyao’s earliest attempt at intellectual property (IP) protection. Qu’s wife Liao Lanying donated the drug recipe in 1956 to the government. Large-scale production of Yunnan Baiyao began. The Yunnan Baiyao Factory was established in 1971, but the company did not focus on IP protection until the late-1990s, when counterfeit products began affecting the company’s business. During this period it registered a series of similar trademarks, including “Yunfeng” and “Yunnan Baiyao.” In 2004, the brand was valued at 2.18 billion yuan (US$269 million), ranking 263rd in the World Economic Forum and the World Brand Lab’s list of the top 500 Chinese brands.
In the years prior to 2005, the company spent nearly 1 million yuan (US$123,300) on patent registration, industrialization of patent products and technological innovation. The company applied for three invention patents in 2002. The total number of patents reached 14 in 2004. As of October 2005, the company has applied for 36 invention patents and 40 design patents.
The exact formula of Yunnan Baiyao is a trade secret. The company website mentions that the steroid progesterone is in the formula, in addition to several saponins, alkaloids and calcium phosphate. The separate herbal ingredients are reportedly compounded by thirteen separate teams, none of whom have any knowledge of the ingredients the other teams are mixing. The individual mixed components are then combined by a further team, who have no knowledge of what constitutes them but knows the proportions in which they are combined. Protopanaxadiol and panaxatriol, sapogenins found in ginseng (Panax ginseng) and notoginseng(Panax pseudoginseng), have been detected in Yunnan Baiyao powder formulations through capillary supercritical fluid chromatography. Yunnan Baiyao should not be used with alcohol or when pregnant.
In December 2010, purported lists of ingredients were published on the websites of Amazon.com and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The list supposedly containing eight active ingredients of a liquid form of the drug were found in a document published on the FDA website that contains correspondence between the FDA and a distributor of the drug. Ingredient lists were also present in the product information sections for the powdered and capsule forms of the drug on Amazon.com. The proportions and exact manufacturing processes are still unknown.
The 2010 FDA document listed notoginseng (Panax pseudoginseng) root, borneol (Dryobalanops aromatica) crystal, Boea Clarkean (Boea clarkeana) entire plant, Inula Copp (Inula coppa) root, Complanatum (Lycopodium complanatum) rhizome, Chinese Yam (Dioscorea opposita) rhizome, galanga (Alpina offcinarum), cranebill(Erodium stephanianum) aerial parts, camphor (Cinnamonmum camphora) crystal extracts, and peppermint (Menta haplocalyx) leaves as active ingredients in Yunnan Baiyao products.
Under the “Law on Guarding State Secrets”, the formula as well as the production processes regarding Yunnan Baiyao were considered “top secret” and enjoyed the longest period of proprietary secrecy protection. There are four levels of secrecy under the Law. As a result, Yunnan Baiyao’s exact ingredients are not printed on its packaging in China, and its production process was not disclosed to workers in the factory. The workers making the medicine are reportedly divided into 13 different groups so that they have no knowledge of the rest of the production process. Some of the Yunnan Baiyao’s products are sold in the US as diet supplements. According to FDA regulations, all diet supplements sold in the US market must list their ingredients on the package and report them to relevant authorities. Officials from the Yunnan Baiyao Group, the exclusive producer of Yunnan Baiyao, denied to Xinhua News Agency Thursday that there is a double standard in Yunnan Baiyao’s secret-protection policy, and that ingredients are only reported to drug authorities. “Whoever disclosed the ingredients should be held legally liable,” Huang Wushuang, an expert on intellectual property rights at East China University of Political Sciences, said.
In early 2013, officials in Sichuan province banned the sale of Baiyao powders and pills over faulty and defective wrappers that led to water contamination in addition to finding products contaminated with mold. In February 2013, the Department of Health of Hong Kong found potentially toxic undeclared aconitum alkaloids in samples of Yunnan Baiyao products, leading to a mandatory recall of products and a temporary ban on the sale of Yunnan Baiyao in the administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
The Yunnan Baiyao Group has diversified and expanded into the global pharmaceutical industry. In 2001, the company revealed an adhesive band-aid product in a joint venture with German personal care products maker Beiersdorf AG.
Multiple routes of drug administration results in varying degrees of efficacy. Topical administration has been shown to have a high degree of efficacy possibly through ultrastructural changes in platelets and platelet-constituent release. Oral administration was shown to produce negligible results in laboratory tests. In vitro studies have suggested a theoretical benefit in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. The effect of Yunnan Baiyao on the coagulation biochemical system has not been fully elucidated, but it has been suggested that the expression of glycoproteins on platlets plays a role. One in vitro study found that Yunnan Baiyao causes dose and time dependent hemangiosarcoma cell death through initiation of caspase-mediated cell apoptosis in a canine cell cancer line. Another study found no significant difference from placebo regarding buccal mucosal bleeding time, prothrombin time, activated partial thromboplastin time, and clotting parameters in canines.There is no high-quality evidence supporting the use of Yunnan Baiyao for either rheumatoid arthritis or hemangiosarcoma available in publicly reported scientific literature as of 2018.
Yunnan Baiyao is focused primarily diversification on the higher end market segment for pharmaceuticals. Following the success of its adhesive bandages, the Chinese firm added toothpaste to its product line-up. Sales revenue from the Yunnan Baiyao toothpaste topped 500 million yuan in 2008, making it the fifth most popular toothpaste in China in terms of sales revenue.
Over the last five years to 2016, its revenue doubled to $3.4 billion in 2016, while net profits did even better, increasing by 140% to $440 million. Market capitalisation has risen by over 250% since the end of 2011 to more than $13 billion.
Starting around 2005, Yunnan Baiyao expanded further into consumer products including patches and shampoos. Adhesive bandages with Yunnan Baiyao powder are marketed under the slogan “It heals faster with Baiyao.”