Kobe: A Center of Excellence for Biomedical Innovation

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Kenichi Tamiya, director for Biomedical Policy at the Kobe City Government and managing director of the Kobe Foundation for Biomedical Research and Innovation (FBRI), discusses the central Japanese city of Kobe’s significant potential as a cutting-edge R&D hub for both the national and global life science industries.

“Alongside promoting translational research in the area of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and regenerative medicines, we aim to create a center of excellence of R&D for highly-advanced medical technology.”

Kenichi Tamiya, FBRI

Supported by the Japanese government in the wake of a devastating earthquake in 1995, the Kobe Biomedical Innovation Cluster aims to create employment opportunities, revitalize the city’s economy, promote health and welfare, and contribute to the improvement of medical standards across Asia. The goal of the FBRI is to promote the Cluster. Having only held 18 companies in 2001, the Cluster now boasts 336; ten percent of which are foreign, such as Boehringer Ingelheim, which has its Japanese research institute in Kobe.

Director Tamiya explains that, nowadays “alongside promoting translational research in the area of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and regenerative medicines, we aim to create a center of excellence of R&D for highly-advanced medical technology.” Companies basing themselves in the Kobe Cluster can gain from close collaboration with hospitals, as “after basic research is completed, we need hospitals to conduct clinical trials.

We have invited many medical institutions to the cluster in order to run the clinical trials as smoothly as possible.” For Tamiya though, the main selling point of the Cluster is “the accumulation of companies and researchers. We have, for instance, 15 coordinators who have a background in pharmaceuticals and medical devices and assist business match meetings between companies. Also, we can build bridges between academia and companies so that academic research can be transferred to companies.”

Bringing technology to market has traditionally been an area in which Japan has lagged behind other innovative nations, but Tamiya feels that the comprehensive support offered in the Kobe Biomedical Innovation Cluster will help to address this.

He posits that “In many cases, we support every stage of R&D including market research, business matchmaking, as well as assistance with regulatory issues. I used to work at the Ministry of Health reviewing new drug applications and was involved in drafting the Pharmaceutical and Medical Devices Act (2014). I can therefore give advice to companies on regulatory affairs including how to consult with the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency, acting as a liaison between the companies and the regulatory authorities.”

The task of attracting MNCs to Kobe can be an arduous one; the city is the fifth largest in Japan with a population of just 1.5 million compared to 9.3 million in Tokyo. Tamiya remembers that “It took many years to take big Japanese pharmaceutical companies to Kobe. We started to host study groups for companies in Kobe engaged in regenerative medicine R&D, as well as regular seminars with regulators from the Ministry of Health and academics, which was effective in convincing companies to come to Kobe.”

However, Tamiya does not see MNCs setting up shop in Kobe as a zero-sum game, noting that “big companies focusing on innovation like Abbvie and Pfizer are already present in Tokyo, but having a small office and laboratory in Kobe is very useful since you are able to liaise with researchers.” With favorable taxation policies also in place, the city stands as an attractive option for international innovators.

Writer: Patrick Burton

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