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Japan-Update

Fujifilm taps drugmaker Takeda to speed stem cell treatments

Japanese group targets regenerative medicine after long search for drug profits

Reprogrammed cells hold the promise of regenerating diseased or injured body parts. (Photo courtesy of Kyoto University's Center for iPS Cell Research and Application)

TOKYO -- Japan's Fujifilm Holdings seeks greater speed to market for regenerative therapies that use reprogrammed cells through a partnership with Takeda Pharmaceutical, the country's biggest drugmaker.

Fujifilm hopes Takeda's resources will help it navigate the long, risky product pipeline to the commercial stage in a promising growth field.

Announced Thursday, the partnership will revolve around regenerative therapies using stem-cell-derived heart muscle tissue. It marks the first collaboration between the pair and represents another move by Fujifilm to reduce its emphasis on self-sufficiency.

Induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, can produce any kind of body tissue and hold the promise of restoring body parts damaged by disease or injury.

Cellular Dynamics International, a U.S. subsidiary of Fujifilm that supplies iPS cells for drug manufacturing, aims to start clinical trials of an experimental iPS-based treatment for restoring cardiac function in patients with heart failure. The unit has four more regenerative treatments in development for other ailments, and will look for partners in each field.

Fujifilm built up its regenerative medicine business through a string of purchases in recent years. Japan Tissue Engineering, the first Japanese company to sell a regenerative therapy, became a subsidiary in 2014. The group then acquired CDI in 2015, followed last year by Osaka-based Wako Pure Chemical Industries, which was bought from Takeda and makes products used to grow cells in the laboratory.

Yet Fujifilm still lacks experience bringing pharmaceuticals all the way to market on its own. Development alone often requires a decade or more, while clinical trials generally cost close to $1 billion.

Takeda has released drugs in markets worldwide, notably the blockbuster diabetes treatment Actos. Fujifilm aims to tap the company's Rolodex of medical professionals -- indispensable for clinical trials -- as well as its sales network and knowledge of regulations.

Fujifilm's deal with Takeda grants the drugmaker the right of first negotiation on any jointly developed products. Takeda will make a one-time payment to Fujifilm, and the companies will work together on efforts including safety and efficacy testing.

Fujifilm, which recently announced plans to take control of U.S. office equipment partner Xerox, entered the pharmaceutical business in earnest with its 2008 purchase of compatriot Toyama Chemical. But the segment has not yet contributed to earnings. The company sees iPS-based regenerative medicine as a growth driver.

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