The recent Nobel Prize recognition of work on artificially derived multipurpose stem cells by Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka is likely to further boost use of the technology in the country’s biotech and related industries.
It is hoped that his research for engineering mature cells, such as skin and blood, to grow into any type of body tissue will help in the development of new drugs and spur business opportunities for regenerative medicine, free from the controversy associated with stem cells from human embryos.
Research company Fuji-Keizai Group says the Japanese market for regenerative medicine reached ¥51.4 billion in 2011 and is likely to top ¥100 billion in 2020 if more products are put on the market and their clinical applications are promoted.
The 50-year-old Kyoto University professor won this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine jointly with John Gurdon of Britain, professor emeritus at Cambridge University, for the discovery that “mature, specialized cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body.”
Major drugmaker Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma Co. in 2011 began research with Kyoto University’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, headed by Yamanaka, to develop treatments of hard-to-cure rare diseases that affect a limited number of people.
The term iPS cell was coined by Yamanaka. It is short for induced pluripotent stem cell.
The research aims to pin down the mechanisms of these diseases using iPS cells and then work out procedures to suppress the progression of such diseases.
It is generally said a new drug takes at least 10 years and tens of billions of yen to develop, including costs and time needed for basic research and clinical trials.
Through the introduction of iPS cells, potent drug candidates can be narrowed down and development sped up, curbing R&D expenditures.
Japan’s No. 1 drugmaker, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., has succeeded in re-creating a condition with Alzheimer’s disease in nerve cells created from iPS cells in a study with Keio University. Researchers are aiming to test drug’s efficacy and toxicity.
They have so far relied on tests on mice and other animals in drug testing, but the quality of data they can access is expected to improve significantly thanks to iPS cells, because they are derived from human cells.
“We would like to promote research activities toward commercial applications,” Takeda Pharmaceutical President Yasuchika Hasegawa said.
The iPS cell research also expands the scope of regenerative medicine.
Major biotech firm Takara Bio Inc. is commissioned to produce iPS cells and relevant test products for use in regenerative medicine research. Its annual turnover currently stands at tens of millions of yen. “In three years, we would like to aim at several hundred million yen,” a company official said.
Reprocell Inc., a young, privately held firm, makes and markets cells derived from iPS cells for use by pharmaceutical companies and research institutes.
“If research progresses further, and our client base expands, we will consider going public,” an official said.
Daiichi Sankyo Co., another major pharmaceutical company, uses iPS cells for developing drugs and for research on regenerative medicine.
It plans to create heart muscle cells with the aim of eventually developing a transplant technology to heal parts of the heart that have lost function due to disease.
Drugmaker Eisai Co. plans to promote study into the mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders using iPS cells.
Outside the drug industry, Shimadzu Corp., a maker of medical and lab equipment, has been conducting R&D on transplanting retina cells by using iPS cells.
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