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Coronavirus

Uniqlo chief pledges $93m for coronavirus research

Gift to Kyoto University will also go to studies on other infectious diseases

Fast Retailing Chairman Tadashi Yanai speaks at a news conference in Kyoto, Japan, on June 24, where he pledged $93 million of his fortune to the study of infectious disease. (Photo by Zhang Yaou)

KYOTO, Japan -- The head of Fast Retailing has pledged a total of 10 billion yen ($93 million) to Kyoto University to fund research into treatments for the new coronavirus and other communicable diseases.

Tadashi Yanai, chairman and president of the Japanese company behind the Uniqlo fashion brand, revealed his plans on Wednesday, saying he will donate 5 billion yen each to Shinya Yamanaka and Tasuku Honjo, two Nobel Prize winners in medicine.

"The biggest issues in medical science are cancer and viruses," Yanai said at a news conference at the university.

For the three years from fiscal 2020, 500 million yen will be devoted to research on the novel coronavirus at the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application at Kyoto University, where Yamanaka serves as director.

The center hopes to create cardiac muscle cells or lung tissue from the stem cells of a coronavirus-infected patient to gain a better understanding of the patient's condition and how the infection spreads in the body. The work also aims to foster the development of treatments and vaccines.

The donation will be used to monitor and analyze trends in the infection and the severity of the coronavirus in patients, which are said to vary by ethnicity.

"We will work thoroughly on vaccine development, making use of this [financial] support," said Yamanaka.

Part of the donation -- 4.5 billion yen -- will be used to build a manufacturing facility and to fund projects the center plans to launch between fiscal 2021 and 2029.

The Yanai Foundation hopes to facilitate research on a new generation immunotherapies for cancer at Kyoto University's Center for Cancer Immunotherapy and Immunobiology. The foundation will be set up to operate for 10 years, starting this fiscal year. Half of Yanai's donation will be dedicated to the center, where Honjo serves as director.

Such private funding is "beneficial as it allows us to use to use it freely, without a set purpose," Honjo said. "This will help the studies of the younger generation," he added.

"We have the same passion to truly make Japan better," Yanai told Yamanaka and Honjo. "I would like to make efforts so that Japan does not decline after the virus subsides," he said.

Yanai has joined a growing number of executives around the world who are making financial pledges to combat the virus. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey announced in April that he will devote $1 billion to infectious disease prevention. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is supporting vaccine development through his own foundation.

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