• Kyodo


Nobel laureate Tasuku Honjo said he will make a decision as early as July on whether to sue Ono Pharmaceutical Co. to demand a hike in the licensing fee for cancer drug Opdivo, which was developed based on his research.

“It would lead to serious trouble in the future if this case is settled in an ambiguous way,” Honjo said in a recent interview, hinting at his intention to continue negotiating with the drugmaker.

The 2018 Nobel laureate in medicine is in a dispute with the company over a licensing fee set under a patent agreement signed in 2006, arguing his current share of the patent income is significantly low.

Ono Pharmaceutical is seeking to settle the dispute through negotiations and has offered to donate up to ¥30 billion ($277 million) to Kyoto University, where Honjo is a distinguished professor.

It would be difficult for the company to comply with his demand, which involves a major change in the terms of the agreement, because such a revision would influence contracts with other researchers and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole, industry sources said.

According to Honjo’s side, it is estimated that the market for cancer immunotherapy drugs like Opdivo is likely to expand to ¥4.5 trillion in 2024.

“It would encourage young researchers if we can show that there is a big return for good research,” Honjo said.

The discovery of the protein PD-1 by Honjo and his team in 1992 later led to the development of Opdivo, which triggers the immune system to attack cancer cells. Sales of Opdivo, which is usually used to treat skin and lung cancer, began in 2014.

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