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Advancing Japan’s biotech and healthcare

May 30, 2017

Japanese companies are known as pioneers in a host of industries. One such company, Osaka-based Japan Bio Science Laboratory (JBSL), has made health foods and ingredients since 1974. It was the first worldwide to produce fermented soybean extract with a high content of Nattokinase (branded as NSK-SD®).

Towa Pharmaceutical’s plant in Yamagata, Japan

“Nattokinase is the fibrinolytic enzyme contained in the Japanese traditional fermented soybean called natto, which is used in dietary supplements intended to prevent thrombosis and protect cardiovascular health,” said President Kenichiro Azuma.

“As many people now live longer, the risk of cardiovascular diseases increases. Quality of life matters more and more and attention is given to disease prevention through appropriate exercise and healthy diet. Because of the safety and efficacy of our product, we want to share this with the world,” Azuma added.

One good example of its efficacy was demonstrated in 2016 in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, human clinical trial, wherein a hypertensive population saw a reduction in blood pressure with the consumption of Nattokinase.

Now that the product has gained the approval of the European Food Safety Authority, Azuma believes the company is ready to market its pioneering product around the world. JBSL is seeking the most effective sales channels abroad.

Also in Osaka, generic drug manufacturer and distributor Towa Pharmaceutical will maintain its focus on Japan and contribute to the Abe government’s goal of increasing the volume usage of generic drugs to 80 percent by 2020.

“To achieve this goal, there needs to be a stable supply of generic drugs in Japan,” said President Itsuro Yoshida.

For distribution, Towa Pharmaceutical has employed the Towa Direct Sales System. Among generic manufacturers, it has the largest number of medical representatives in Japan. 

“This allows our representatives to directly enlighten clients about our products and also gather feedback. We can then easily incorporate their comments into the way we improve our products,” Yoshida said.

“To add value, we have been particular in developing certain properties about our drugs, like masking bitterness in taste while maintaining dissolution time and bioequivalence,” he added.

Yoshida hopes that the manufacturing and formulation know-how gathered over 60 years in Japan will help them once they expand to the United States and other nations and regions.

Meanwhile, Nippon Gene aims to advance the overall biotech industry. Being the first biotechnology venture established in Japan in 1982, it has proven to be a trailblazer among its peers.

Over the last 35 years, Nippon Gene has focused on the health of humans, animals, plants, and the earth through its two business segments: research tools and diagnostic tools. 

“We see ourselves as a monozukuri company. With our distinct focus on craftsmanship within the biotech sphere, we believe we can utilize our Toyama factory and contribute to the advancement of the industry. That is the role we want to play,” said Founder Yuko Yoneda.

Nippon Gene has formed a partnership with a company in Belgium and began selling its products in Europe. It is now interested in entering the U.S. market.

Japan 2017, Part 2 was prepared for and originally printed in Foreign Affairs magazine.

PDF of the printed report

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