Collaboration is Key to Unlocking the Promise of Translational Research in Japan and Beyond
Japan has long been a world leader in innovation and has provided benefits both locally and globally. From high-speed train travel to the world’s first commercialized laptop Japan has a strong heritage in not only discovery, but the important translation of research into a commercial reality that is accessible to all – in Japan and around the world.
Continuing this tradition is not only critical to meet the demands of tomorrow, it is also critical for the Japanese economy. Innovation is key to improving productivity, providing new sources of competitive advantage, creating jobs and helping address socioeconomic challenges.
Currently, Japan is third in the world for investment in Research & Development, and just last year was ranked 9th by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index – however, I believe more can be done, and the opportunity is in healthcare.
In healthcare, the translation of research from discovery to reality or ‘translational research’ means breakthroughs don’t remain in the laboratory - innovations flow from the research bench to commercial entities and ultimately to patients. In the battle to fight sickness with science this needs to happen both regularly and quickly.
I believe with a culture based on an innovative mind-set, along with a strong foundation of scientific expertise and Government support, Japan has the opportunity to be a leader in developing and exporting healthcare innovation as it has in other industries and sectors.
Yet, currently Japan ranks only 15th in translational medicine and 23rd in academia-industry collaboration globally. While, on the other hand, the US has an impressive track record of taking translational research from the lab through to commercialization quickly and efficiently. And not just in the private sector: many new molecules that are being marketed come from leading academic centers.
So, the question is: How can Japan bring its innovative spirit to this arena and capitalize on this opportunity that will not only benefit the local industry and the economy, but, most importantly, help patients locally and around the world?
Translational research in the US – in pharmaceuticals and elsewhere – is driven by a highly entrepreneurial spirit, the availability of venture capital and close collaboration with those who ultimately want to use the innovations.
In Japan, however, being an entrepreneur or working for a small business has traditionally been viewed as a plan B. This underlying fear of failure and an inherent risk aversion coupled with lack of venture capital, I believe, has hindered the progression of scientific innovation. Furthermore, a lack of experience in the market has also meant that those who might have wanted to try something new would not know where to begin.
The good news is that things are changing in Japan and we are seeing a shift in the market. Risk-taking and entrepreneurism is becoming more accepted, venture capital is becoming more readily available. In addition, younger generations, having grown up in the era of digital business models and the global gig economy, are more open to working for start-ups and are challenging traditional perceptions.
This means that now is the time to build on this momentum.
In order to do this, I believe that public-private partnerships, locally and internationally, will be key to harnessing the opportunity it brings. The Japanese Government has already recognized this need and is supporting it through its Life Innovation Strategy and companies around the world are also realizing the important role they need to play in supporting the process from research through to commercialization.
As such, Janssen has been working with some of the brightest minds in Japanese academia to make sure ‘science made in Japan’ gets fostered and the right structures and skills are in place to translate it into real outcomes for patients across the world. Our efforts are currently focusing on three key pillars:
1. Fostering business skills and entrepreneurial spirit: Janssen is working with Osaka University, Kyoto University and the University of Tokyo to offer entrepreneurial researchers programs that ensure the right skills and knowledge to translate innovations into successful business ideas. In addition, we offer a mentoring program that pairs academics with mentors specific to their needs.
2. Supporting discoveries in areas of unmet need: Our commitment with these universities also includes support that will help accelerate innovative early-stage pharmaceutical research to meet areas of high unmet medical need. As the first step in the translational process, ensuring that early-stage research is focused and supported is crucial for later translation.
3. Fostering international exchange: Japan is one of the largest economies in the world and has long been doing exceptionally well without major international exchange of ideas or research in healthcare. At Janssen, we believe that real innovation can only come about when you bring together people with different perspectives and different background – this is one of the key drivers behind our Diversity & Inclusion strategy. Working only with people who think alike has been shown to hinder innovation.
This is why we opened a Johnson & Johnson Tokyo Science Center that fosters exchange between Japanese and international healthcare professionals. We are also making an ongoing effort to share insights from our colleagues across the world with academia and healthcare professionals in Japan. In addition, we have started to deploy Japan’s Venture Companies to our incubators (JLABs) in the US, Canada and China, so they can see how start-ups are grown in other countries.
To create a future where disease is a thing of the past, we will be faced with many challenges and we need to leverage every opportunity we are given along the way. I believe Japan, with its established track record of ingenuity and its new generation of scientists and entrepreneurs, has the potential to play a leading role in our journey of bringing the next ground-breaking discoveries from bench to bedside.