M3 Inc., a medical Web portal backed by Sony Corp., is embarking on a plan to step up investments in health care startups at home and abroad.

"Our targets are small firms in the areas such as regenerative medicine, medical devices, digital health care and robotics for medicine in Japan, Europe and the U.S.," said Kazuhiro Umeda, chief executive officer of M3i, a new unit that will scout out deals. Umeda, 39, is a former vice president of state-backed Innovation Network Corporation of Japan.

M3, founded in 2000, is a global website used by more than 3.5 million doctors in Japan, the U.S., China and other countries to find medical studies, look up drug information and network with each other. M3 also offers research services for drugmakers' clinical trials. The company, about 40 percent owned by Sony, first sold shares in 2004 and has a market value of ¥874 billion. Sales are projected to climb 25 percent to ¥64.3 billion in the current fiscal year, data show.

"Our strategy is to buy majority stakes in target firms owning advanced technology and patents, and the size of one deal may be around ¥300 million," Umeda said.

M3i's first deal, struck in February, was an investment in MedTech Heart Inc., a startup that began as a joint project between Tokyo Medical and Dental University and the Tokyo Institute of Technology. MedTech Heart develops blood-pumping devices based on magnetic-levitation drives, helping patients suffering from heart failure. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Umeda, who joined in August, previously worked at venture capital firm Japan Asia Investment Co. for about eight years before moving to INCJ in 2013.