April 17, 2014 3:57 am JST

Taisho teams up with venture on new biologic drugs

TOKYO -- Taisho Pharmaceutical will develop nucleic-acid-based medications with help from a pharmaceutical startup, aiming to tap into the growing market for next-generation prescription drugs.

     Ribomic, established in 2003, uses technology from the University of Tokyo. The venture possesses large quantities of nucleic acids with potential medical applications, as well as technology for efficiently selecting promising candidates from among them.

     Taisho aims to begin clinical trials in four years for the candidates that are the most viable or expected to be in demand. It will likely work in Japan and overseas on treatments for conditions including allergies, infectious diseases, and such mental illnesses as Alzheimer's disease and depression.

     Ribomic will be compensated for successful candidates as development progresses.

     Until now, Taisho has developed prescription drugs chiefly in-house. It is joining hands with Ribomic in order to open up a new area of business.

     Nucleic acid drugs are a type of biologic product derived from substances in the human body. They directly affect proteins or genes that cause illness, making them a promising prospect for dealing with hard-to-treat diseases.

     Headway has been made in commercializing antibody drugs, another class of biologics, for such conditions as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. But nucleic acid drugs break down even more readily than antibody drugs, complicating development.

     That said, further progress is expected. In Japan, Shionogi is joining hands with pharmaceutical startup AnGes MG to develop a treatment for atopic dermatitis, and Nippon Shinyaku is working on a treatment for muscular dystrophy.

     Global sales of nucleic acid drugs are expected to reach 500 billion yen ($4.84 billion) in 2020, according to Seed Planning.

     Taisho's prescription drug sales grew 9% on the year to 113.9 billion yen for fiscal 2012, with antibiotics selling well at home and abroad. The company plans to focus on these higher-margin products amid price wars in Japan over nonprescription drugs, which now account for 60% of its sales.