TOKYO -- Japanese companies are joining the search for ways to commercialize induced pluripotent stem cells, spurred in part by recent legislation designed to fast-track such forms of regenerative medicine.
One new entrant is Daiichi Sankyo, which announced Monday that it will seek to commercialize sheets of heart muscle tissue derived from iPS cells as a treatment for heart disease. The pharmaceutical company is investing an undisclosed amount in the Osaka University spin-off Cuorips, which developed the sheets of myocardial cells. The idea is to grow the sheets and graft them onto the heart to help it beat properly. This would give patients with severe heart failure an alternative to a transplant or an artificial heart.
Daiichi Sankyo will conduct clinical trials in cooperation with doctors at Osaka University and work to develop a way to mass-produce the sheets of myocardial tissue. This represents the Japanese drugmaker's first foray into the field of iPS cells; it is aiming to gain global marketing rights.
Also on Monday, bioventure Megakaryon announced that it has developed a way to mass-produce blood platelets derived from iPS cells. It has been working on this project in collaboration with 15 domestic companies, including Otsuka Holdings and Sysmex, as a way to address the shortage of blood for transfusions. The goal is to win regulatory approval in 2020.
Making iPS cells involves winding back the genetic clock on fully differentiated somatic cells, putting them back in a state from which they can be induced to develop into almost any other kind of cell with a specific function.
Although scientists in Japan pioneered the process, corporate Japan has lagged behind its Western rivals in commercialization efforts. Now is the time for them to get active if they do not want to be left behind.