With Shinzo Abe assuming the role of Prime Minster in Japan, without sparing any time, the youngest post-war president announced a slew of measures aimed at restoring Japan's global competitiveness. Past governments have sought and failed to enact many of the reforms Abe and other leaders say are needed to revamp an outdated post-World War II industrial model and sustain growth for decades to come.
In order to boost Japan’s growth that has been stagnant for years, one of the Prime Minsters’ main goals was to enhance the competitiveness of its biotechnology industry, and ensure that it is as innovative, and if not more creative, than their counterparts in the United States and Europe.
In addition, Prime Minister Abe government launched “Abenomics,” a series of broad economic policies designed to reverse some two decades of stagnancy by positioning Japan as business-friendlier—such as stimulus spending and targeted deregulation designed to remake Japan into, as he puts it, “the easiest country in the world for companies to operate.”
So far, there have been clear positive results from Prime Minster Abe’s policies. His government’s plans allowed Japanese biotech ventures to make jet fuel from algae and to create synthetic cartilage as the central bank has continued to pump money in the market. And Japan is attracting companies from around the world that are working to develop regenerative medicine treatments, thanks to a regulatory change that shortens approval times significantly.
Dr. Yuki Abe, Key Account Manager/Senior Bioprocess Consultant Engineer, Biopharm, a firm that develops technology solutions and services for the biopharmaceutical manufacturing business, spoke with The Biotechnician about what she has been seeing in the Japanese biotechnology industry. She has seen the country go from a stagnate and closed economy, to one that has begun to flourish, and has witnessed Japan’s biotechnology industry create novel therapies and drug. Yet as she points out, there are still challenges that will take government support to solve, along with understanding the concept of Single Use technologies and their value.
The Biotechnician-How as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policies are impacting the industry?
Dr. Yuki Abe-First half of my life was in Japan when the country was still suffering from the economic crash in 1991. From 20 years onward since then, Japanese people called this period as the “blank (lost) 20 years”. I moved to the United Kingdom before entering high school, so I still could not see the full impact of how this crash affected the Japanese people and the economy. Before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe policy came in, it felt like Japan has been closing its doors to rest of the world. I must admit that some of top Japanese Universities and companies have brilliant minds. When I read articles in Japanese, I can tell how brilliant they were. This always made me wonder why we do not see many Japanese pharmaceutical companies making important moves in the world.
After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe policy took place, the change was clear. We could see people are more open for companies outside of Japan. When we meet people who work in the industry, their eyes are shining with hope and determination to do innovation. Not only that, they are seriously trying to determine what would be the best process for their new innovations. When people do this, they consider cost impact among many listed items. This is where our offering can be so appealing to the industry in Japan. Japan is more open for rest of the world than ever before.
The Biotechnician-The is the role of multinational companies within the market? Are they beginning to gain traction in the market?
Dr. Yuki Abe-It has so much potential. In terms of bringing new concept and alternative options. Japan is expanding rapidly in of cell therapy and gene therapy area driven by targeted investments from the Abe government and a change in the regulatory environment. It is quite impressive to see how many academic institutes have great resources. In Japan, there are two categories of Universities, National Funded University and privately funded Universities. Some of the private funding universities have great access to funding and have sophisticated Lab space. They and the private sector are responding to this increased investment in regenerative medicine. Greater awareness outside Japan of this situation has the potential to develop academic and commercial collaboration. I think this will open up new opportunities. Increasing awareness can be achieved through facilitation of webinars or talk at the conference would be beneficial.
However it is important to address the language barrier, it is important to have technical translator whenever going over to Japan. There are many nuances that cannot be easily captured. Also cultural concepts are important as well. Technical jargon is difficult to translate properly. One small mistake can lead to a misunderstanding of one’s offering and product. I think people will be surprised at how many bright ideas people in the industry in Japan have. Also culturally, the subsidiaries are not given the opportunities to speak to their bosses about improvements or suggestions. By having multi-national firms coming into Japan, I believe the culture in the work place will change for the better.
The Biotechnician-What do you think the future is for Japan’s biotechnology industry?
Dr. Yuki Abe-In the short term, I can see many Japanese firms going through an important transition. Employment of new people who can speak English fluently is one of the main trends I am seeing. Trying to understand where rest of the world especially US and EU are going in the industry is another major trend occurring in Japan’s biotechnology industry. One of Japan’s major suppliers told us that Single Use pick up has been very quick in developing in Japan. In my humble opinion, Japan’s biotechnology industry needs to have a deeper understanding of the concept of Single Use’s true value, especially regarding facility using single use technologies and how to mitigate risk.
Just like anything else, correct information is very important in doing this properly. I would think many pharmaceutical firms would ask for lecturer, consultancy or educational talk from leading single use specialist from the United States or Europe. Those people know both the failed and successful cases. I have been fortunate enough to work with many who are pioneers in this field. One of them is our president Andrew Sinclair. When I hear his Single Use strategy talk, I become very inspired, and I really wish someone like him had the opportunity to speak more in Japan to raise awareness about these technologies. This should be really an interesting topic for many people. Also I can see cell therapy or gene therapy has been greatly successful in Japan. I am sure this will be another great success in short and long term.
In long-term, the Japan’s biotechnology industry will blossom by introducing new concepts such as single use technologies. Also I think many companies will try to learn and conceptually try continuous processes. This can integrate into their lean way of working. I think the challenge will be the education once again. By learning the advantage sand true nature of continuous process, I have a feeling both suppliers and pharmaceutical companies will come up with unique and wonderful ideas. After all, I think true innovation or cutting edge technologies will be based on the uniqueness of new ideas. And I do believe the Japan’s biotechnology industry has the capacity and power of to create unique innovation.