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Sep 24, 2007
 |  BioCentury  |  Strategy

Specialty bridge to Japan

Japan does not have a very large biotech industry, mainly because the country's regulatory and financing environments are not conducive to startups. A large Japanese trading company and a U.S. venture firm have launched a Western-style specialty pharma company that they hope will break through the barriers.

JapanBridge Inc. was incorporated last November with the goal of in-licensing cancer products that are in late-stage development in the U.S. and Europe, and bringing them to market in Japan. Although this model is hardly revolutionary in the West, it's a novel idea in Japan, according to CEO Steve Engen.

JapanBridge was the brainchild of MPM Capital and Itochu Corp. (Tokyo:8001, Tokyo, Japan), which started meeting with Japanese biotech companies in October 2005 to see whether any could be made more robust and attractive to Western investors.

"None were up to MPM's standards, so we started from scratch," said Koji Shinozaki, who co-founded JapanBridge as VP of corporate development and was formerly leader of Itochu's life science unit and innovative technology business development office.

JapanBridge received $1.3 million in series A1 seed money at its formation, including $1.05 million from MPM and $250,000 from Itochu. That money was used to study Japan's regulatory environment and find a management team with the experience to make the model work.

They found Engen, who had previously started up Mundipharma K.K. (Tokyo, Japan), an independent associated company...

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