Firms name 27 potential Nobel laureates on payrolls

Major Japanese firms responding to a recent Kyodo News survey said they have 27 potential Nobel laureates on their payroll.

Kyodo News sent questionnaires to 150-odd leading corporations in April, asking them if they have researchers they believe deserve a Nobel Prize. Ten companies replied yes.

Last year, Koichi Tanaka, 43, a researcher at Kyoto-based measuring instrument manufacturer Shimadzu Corp., shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry, becoming the first researcher to win a Nobel while on the payroll of a Japanese company.

Tanaka won his share of the prize for developing an innovative method of analyzing life-forming proteins, a discovery that paves the way for early cancer diagnosis.

In response to the questionnaire, Fujitsu Ltd. nominated five researchers, the largest number among the responding companies, followed by a chemical firm in the Sumitomo group, which named four.

Suntory Ltd., Takeda Chemical Industries Ltd. and a textile firm (whose name is withheld by request) named three each; Kirin Brewery Co., NEC Corp., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Kajima Corp. nominated two; and Osaka Gas Co. one.

The three researchers nominated by Suntory include Yasuyuki Yamada, a company adviser and professor emeritus at Kyoto University who has established a technology to effectively produce medicines through plant cell culture.

The two others nominated by Suntory are Terumi Nakajima, chairman of the board at Suntory Institute for Bioorganic Research, who is well-known for his research on biotoxins, and Yoshikazu Tanaka, chief researcher at Suntory Advanced Technology Application Institute, which is engaged in the analysis of plant gene functions, including development of a blue carnation by artificially recombining genes.

One of the two researchers cited by Kirin Brewery is Isao Ishida, acting director at Kirin’s pharmaceutical business department. He studied immunology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under professor Susumu Tonegawa, another Japanese Nobel laureate.

Ishida specializes in chromosome engineering and is well-known for his development of “human antibody medicines” for patients with immunity deficiencies who suffer from cancer or infectious disease.

NEC withheld the names of the two researchers it cited.

But one of them is believed to be senior research fellow Sumio Iijima, who is credited with the discovery of a new form of carbon having a tubular structure with a diameter in the order of nanometers.

The “carbon nanotube” is expected to be applied to fuel cells because of its crystal completeness and miniature structure.

Osaka Gas nominated a researcher of the carbon nanotube at its advanced material business promotion department.

Of the respondents, 62 companies said they cannot think of anyone who is likely to win a Nobel Prize. Four said they were uncertain, and 59 firms declined to answer the question.