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Otsuka invests in startup making iPS-derived blood platelets

Japanese drugmaker gains access to Megakaryon's game-changing tech

Megakaryon seeks to mass-produce iPS-derived platelets.

TOKYO -- Japanese drugmaker Otsuka Holdings is making inroads into blood products with an investment in compatriot Megakaryon, a venture that creates platelets out of induced pluripotent stem cells, in hopes of commercializing the technology by 2020.

Otsuka Pharmaceutical and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Factory have together shelled out 1 billion yen ($8.82 million) to acquire shares newly issued by Megakaryon, taking a roughly 10% stake.

The Otsuka group is now Megakaryon's second-largest shareholder, after the public-private Innovation Network Corp. of Japan, which holds a 50%-plus interest.

Megakaryon has raised 3.7 billion yen in total, with Sysmex, CMIC Holdings, Kyoto Seisakusho and Satake Chemical Equipment Manufacturing also purchasing shares.

Platelets produced from iPS cells.

Otsuka has been seeking a new avenue for growth in the years since the Abilify schizophrenia drug, which brought in more than 600 billion yen a year at its peak, lost patent protection. It aims to diversify by turning cancer drugs into a business pillar while actively investing in new cutting-edge technology.

Megakaryon intends to use the funds raised to begin clinical trials in Japan in 2019 and build production lines capable of producing about 5,000 packs a year of iPS-derived platelets. It aims to commercialize the technology in 2020 and is also looking to expand abroad.

The production of platelet products, which are used as clotting agents, still depends entirely on donations. But with the Japanese population shrinking, donations are seen falling 15% under necessary levels in 2027. iPS-derived products could fill this gap in Japan's 73 billion yen market for platelet products.

Platelet products made the conventional way keep for just four days, but those derived from iPS cells are good for two weeks.


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