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Pharmaceuticals

Fujifilm teams up with Bayer on cancer drug development

Companies to test cheaper stem cell-based immunotherapy drug for cancer patients

Japan's Fujifilm and Germany's Bayer are collaborating on tests that could make a promising cancer treatment more affordable.

TOKYO -- Fujifilm Holdings has joined hands with German drugmaker Bayer to develop an immune-based cancer treatment using induced pluripotent stem cells.

Currently, stem cell treatments are expensive and take time to prescribe. The Japan-German alliance intends to surmount these hurdles by using a new method in which iPS cells come from someone other than the patient. In the conventional method, cells from patients themselves are used.

The companies plan to start clinical trials as early as the year ending March 2022. The new treatment, if successful, would expand options for cancer treatment.

As part of the deal, Bayer has invested in Century Therapeutics, a joint venture between a Fujifilm subsidiary and Versant Venture Management, a U.S. venture capital company with a focus on health care. Fujifilm plans to make Century a subsidiary accounted for under the equity method, although the companies did not disclose their percentage stakes in Century.

The companies will develop an immune-based cancer treatment using a technology called chimeric antigen receptor-T cell therapy, which genetically engineers harvested stem cells to increase their ability to fight cancer cells. In CAR-T cell therapy, cells are cultured and injected into patients through intravenous drips.

About $250 million is budgeted for the project, nearly 90% of which will be footed by Bayer, which has made anticancer drugs its main business focus. The Fujifilm subsidiary will provide technology on iPS cells and make the drug. The companies plan to start clinical trials in two to three years.

Fujifilm aims to add a new revenue source by manufacturing the drug. It also expects higher returns from its investment in Century to flow if the treatment ends up increasing the subsidiary's corporate value.

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