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Japan's Maz World opens lab in Hong Kong R&D hub

Biotech startup targets Chinese consumers with its ostrich-derived antibodies

Maz World is the first Japanese biotech company to open a lab in the Hong Kong Science Park.

HONG KONG -- Seeing a big opportunity in China for bird-flu masks and skin care products, Japanese biotech startup Maz World has opened a research and development center in Hong Kong.

Maz World, which has developed a breakthrough technology that uses ostrich eggs to create large amounts of antibodies far more efficiently than possible with conventional methods, is the first Japanese biotech company to set up a base in the Hong Kong Science Park, which is home to about 80 companies in the industry.

The company will work with Osaka startup Zeal Cosmetics at the new lab and will handle the entire work process, from developing products to selling them in the Chinese and Hong Kong markets. It will also collaborate with researchers from the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The initial products will include masks that block out the bird-flu virus, of which there are frequent outbreaks in southern China, and skin care goods tailored to local consumers.

The Hong Kong facility represents the latest step in Maz World's push to work with local businesses and research bodies in marketing biotechnology developed at Japanese universities in other parts of Asia.

Maz World manages the intellectual property rights to the technology for obtaining antibodies by injecting antigens, such as house dust, into ostriches, and isolating and collecting antibodies from the yolk after the birds lay eggs. The company also handles all marketing of the technology.

The technology, developed by Kyoto Prefectural University professor Yasuhiro Tsukamoto, makes it possible to produce with just one egg the same amount of antibodies that would require 800 rabbits to produce using conventional methods. This shortcut significantly reduces production costs.

Speed and funding advantage 

Maz World's partner, Zeal Cosmetics, develops and manufactures cosmetics and health care products containing antibodies produced using the technology. These products are targeted at people who suffer from such skin problems as atopic dermatitis and acne. Most of its products are sold at beauty shops and elderly care facilities.

Zeal Cosmetics President Osamu Maeda said having a Hong Kong base will speed up the product development and marketing cycle compared with operations in Japan.

The new location also gives Maz World an advantage in terms of obtaining funding, according to Managing Partner Gene Shigekawa.

He said the company is now better positioned to take advantage of the financial hub's numerous venture capital companies interested in health care-related businesses.

Hong Kong's high rents have stifled the growth of local startups. Albert Wong, CEO of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks, which operates the Hong Kong Science Park, welcomed Maz World's move. He said his company aims to create growth opportunities for local talent in the tech industries by providing a "lively" environment.

Zeal Cosmetics is not new to overseas collaboration. In 2014, it set up an R&D center in Singapore's Biopolis research hub for biomedical sciences, where it has worked with the country's Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology on research for dengue virus antibodies.

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