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Date of Issue:1/December/2006

Participating in the Kansai Biomission

Makoto Kato
Vice Chairman, Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI)
(Vice Chairman, ITOCHU Corporation)

In late September, the Kansai Biomission visited Cambridge outside London in the United Kingdom. A seminar was held in Cambridge to attract biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to the Kansai region, creating productive cluster interaction between Kansai and Cambridge.

The Kansai Biomission, organized by the Kansai Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Institute for International Studies and Training and the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, visited Cambridge outside London in the United Kingdom on 26-29 September 2006. The mission comprised 24 participants from Kansai biotechnology promotion institutions and pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms, etc. The aims of the mission were (1) to attract foreign firms, etc., to Kansai/Osaka, and (2) to promote exchange among biotechnology businesses.

Thanks to the Kansai biotechnology seminars and individual meetings, as well as visits to ERBI (the Eastern Region Biotechnology Initiative) and the Babraham Institute, etc., the mission was extremely productive in terms of advertising Kansai’s attractions, and also proved valuable for those mission members looking for business partners.

In the world of biotechnology clusters, the biotechnology industry is regarded as having emerged in 1976 when US firm Genentech was established. It was therefore highly significant that the Kansai Biomission should visit Cambridge in 2006, which marked the 30th anniversary of the industry’s birth. The life science industry has an extremely broad base, and stands as one of the most critical industries in stimulating the Kansai/Osaka economy. This promising core industry also has strong growth prospects, with a large market expected to emerge. Efforts to develop a Kansai biotechnology cluster have already been underway now for several years. Kansai has been strong in medical products both historically and traditionally, embracing numerous pharmaceutical majors like Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited. Universities in the area include Osaka University, Kyoto University and Kobe University, while a number of national research institutes have been built in Kansai, including the National Cardiovascular Centre, the Centre for Developmental Biology (RIKEN Kobe Institute). Science parks are also being developed, including Saito Life Science Park in the northern Osaka area, the Kobe Medical Industry Development Project, and Kansai ScienceCity. Organic linkages among universities, industry and government are now possible, with the institutions and conditions in place to develop a world-class biotechnology industry. Increasing the frequency and deepening the content of contact with front-running North America and Europe will certainly contribute to the globalization of the Kansai biotechnology industry.

Cambridge is home to one of the world’s top universities, spawning such major figures as Newton and Darwin. Cambridge’s astonishing performance includes producing 76 Nobel prize-winners to date, while in terms of biotechnology the city boasts a number of public research institutes, pharmaceutical majors like Glaxo Smith Klein, and many research institutes operated by biotechnology firms. Systems for transforming university research results into companies and products and linking them with investors are also functioning smoothly. While I knew these facts before taking part in the mission, and viewed Cambridge as an appropriate partner for Kansai/Osaka’s efforts to develop the local biotechnology industry, I was extremely surprised at the efforts I saw across Cambridge as a whole, which far exceeded my expectations.

What I found particularly valuable were the visits to, and exchanges of views with the ERBI and the basic research facilities at the science parks, which underpin the biotechnology industry in terms of partnering and other 'soft' aspects, and the Babraham Institute, which supports the industry in 'hard' aspects. It was also instructive from the perspective of building and operating the Kansai biotechnology cluster to learn that even at this stage in Cambridge's evolution, it is still difficult to break even on 'hard' aspects.

The vital issue will be to actively incorporate good aspects and possible aspects from Cambridge to build the Kansai biotechnology cluster into a world leader in terms of technological precision and speed and also sensitivity, combining the strengths of academia, industry and government. This will mean steadily tackling a succession of projects and working with Cambridge to establish a track record.

I would like to extend my deep gratitude to all those involved for ensuring that the mission satisfied its goals and proved to be so productive. The cooperation and support extended to the mission by all involved was much appreciated.


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