Establishing the Pharmaceutical Quality of Chinese Herbal Medicine: A Provisional BCS Classification

The Biopharmaceutical Classification System (BCS), which is a scientific approach to categorize active drug ingredient based on its solubility and intestinal permeability into one of the four classes, has been used to set the pharmaceutical quality standards for drug products in western society. However, it has received little attention in the area of Chinese herbal medicine (CHM). This is likely, in part, due to the presence of multiple active components as well as lack of standardization of CHM. In this report, we apply BCS classification to CHMs provisionally as a basis for establishing improved <i>in vitro</i> quality standards. Based on a top-200 drugs selling list in China, a total of 31 CHM products comprising 50 official active marker compounds (AMCs) were provisionally classified according to BCS. Information on AMC content and doses of these CHM products were retrieved from the Chinese Pharmacopoeia. BCS parameters including solubility and permeability of the AMCs were predicted <i>in silico</i> (ACD/Laboratories). A BCS classification of CHMs according to biopharmaceutical properties of their AMCs is demonstrated to be feasible in the current study and can be used to provide a minimum set of quality standards. Our provisional results showed that 44% of the included AMCs were classified as Class III (high solubility, low permeability), followed by Class II (26%), Class I (18%), and Class IV (12%). A similar trend was observed when CHMs were classified in accordance with the BCS class of AMCs. Most (45%) of the included CHMs were classified as Class III, followed by Class II (16%), Class I (10%), and Class IV (6%); whereas 23% of the CHMs were of mixed class due to the presence of multiple individual AMCs with different BCS classifications. Moreover, about 60% of the AMCs were classified as high-solubility compounds (Class I and Class III), suggesting an important role for an <i>in vitro</i> dissolution test in setting quality control standards ensuring consistent biopharmaceutical quality for the commercially available CHM products. That is, provisionally, more than half of the AMCs of the top-selling CHMs included in this study would be candidates for a bioequivalence (BE) biowaiver, based on WHO recommendations and EMEA guidelines. Thus a dissolution requirement on these AMCs would represent a significant advance in the pharmaceutical quality of CHM today.