TOKYO -- Japan is increasingly winning back development operations of foreign pharmaceutical companies, thanks to regulatory changes and government efforts to create a biomedical research agency like the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Pfizer, seeking to strengthen partnerships with Japanese industry and academia, will place a so-called scientific leader here to find promising compounds held by startups and universities.
The American drug giant plans to research diabetes and cancer treatments using university-held compounds, for example, involving doctors and scholars with Japanese drug development experience. If a school moves to set up a biotechnology venture, Pfizer will consider investing in it.
GlaxoSmithKline of the U.K. will work with JCR Pharmaceutical to develop drugs for orphan diseases. It will also work separately on product development with Chiome Bioscience, which has antibody generation technologies.
Japan has lagged behind Western countries in promoting new-drug development. An approval process that takes a year or so in the U.S. takes twice as long here, and the Japanese government provides only about 10% as much monetary support for research and development. Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline shut down research operations here in the 2007-08 period.
But change is coming. A Japanese version of the NIH is seen enhancing aid to research on cancer and dementia, for example, by bringing together budgets previously scattered across government bodies.
On the regulatory front, a reform expected to go into effect this year would speed approval of treatments using regenerative medicine technologies. A process that has taken more than a decade could be completed in several years.
SanBio, a startup working to develop regenerative medicine therapies using bone marrow from healthy people, moved its headquarters from the U.S. state of California to Tokyo last month. Its Japanese operations will likely focus on products to aid recovery of motor function in Parkinson's disease patients and people with traumatic brain injuries.
In line with a government growth strategy focused on health care, the return of foreign firms' drug R&D will likely bolster Japan's competitiveness.