The governor of Japan’s Kanagawa Prefecture, which includes the greater Tokyo area, has signed an agreement with Cell Therapy Catapult, a UK organisation tasked by the government to grow the British biopharma industry.
The pact will aid UK biotechs working with Cell Therapy Catapult in entering the Japanese market by helping with local regulation, trials and commercialisation, and vice versa for Japanese companies, CTC’s chief executive Keith Thompson told BioPharma-Reporter.com.
“We’re trying to make the UK a favoured destination in Europe for when US and Japanese firms want to internationalise. We’ve had terrific success with US firms, but it always [takes longer] with Japanese companies,” Thompson told us.
The “Memorandum of Understanding” will see Cell Therapy Catapult (CTC) co-operating with companies housed in the Life Innovation Centre in Kanagawa Prefecture, a 16,000 sq metre building set to open in spring 2016.
One of these tenants will be Cellular Dynamics International (CDI), a producer of pluripotent stem cell-based drug discovery tools, recently acquired by Fujifilm. FIRM, the Japanese Forum for Innovative Regenerative Medicine, and Scottish Development International will also be based at the site, which Thompson describes as providing “everything from an area for growing and evaluating cells right through to business incubation space.”
The Kanagawa Prefecture is part of the Tokyo Metro, an area with a population of 40m with 15 hospitals and many biotech firms. The Life Innovation Centre will be joined by a direct bridge to Haneda International Airport for shipping samples to and from Heathrow Airport, London.
“We see a cooperation – which frankly has got to be built now – over the coming years with the Prefecture and particularly with the Life Innovations Centre,” said Thompson.“We need to create a path between the assets built out of the centre and its hinterland, and our Stevenage manufacturing centre and our Guy’s centre.
“The benefits of an MOU with Kanagawa refecture are that they take these things really seriously, and once you have these goverment commitments, it’s easier to mobilise the firms into these cooperative projects based around iPS [induced pluripotent stem] cells.”
Regenerative medicine – which engineers or replaces damaged cells within human patients – has become a popular area of research in Japan since Shinya Yamanaka won the 2012 Noel Prize for medicine for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent.
The trend is helped by the 2013 Regenerative Medicine Promotion Act, which essentially provides a fast-track pathway for some therapies to hit the market after successful Phase II results, and by the mass of mid-sized biotechs in Japan, where megamergers havelargely failed to catch on.
"The Japanese government has bet the farm on iPS technology and turning these cells into medicines,” said CTC’s CEO. “We’ve got licenses from academia in Japan for iPS tech which we’ve been applying here [in the UK] to make cell lines.
“They’ve had a big push in that area and of course the Japanese government is very keen not just to serve its home market, which is under pressure from an ageing population, but keen to internationalise it as well.”