Skip to content

Building new connections with Japanese innovation

5 Nov, 2015

This week, we announced that the Wellcome Trust has made the first awards under our new funding partnership with the Global Health Innovation Fund – a Tokyo-based public-private partnership which hopes to reduce the burden of infectious diseases by unlocking the potential of Japanese innovation. Dr Ann Mills-Duggan from the Wellcome Trust Innovations Division explains the significance of funding into this community.

Credit: Richard Giles

Credit: Richard Giles

With the third largest economy and the second largest pharmaceutical industry in the world, Japan is one of the major players on the international stage. But this hasn’t always been the case. For over two hundred years between 1639 and 1853, a policy of national seclusion was in place that banned all international trade aside from the occasional Dutch or Chinese merchants.

This all changed in 1853 when Commodore Perry of the US Navy sailed his fleet of so-called “Black Ships” into the port of Uraga, eventually forcing Japan into a trade agreement that marked the start of the country’s reintegration into global activities. Fast forward another 150 years and modern-day Japan enjoys an enviable position at the forefront of innovation and technology.

Now a new investment fund is seeking to harness the might of Japanese research and development to tackle the crushing burden of infectious tropical diseases, which have a devastating effect on some of the world’s poorest people. The Tokyo-based Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund) is one of the latest initiatives working to overcome the barriers of social inequality and foster international research collaboration.

Credit: Hilary Hurd. Wellcome Images

Credit: Hilary Hurd. Wellcome Images

Formed in 2012 as a public-private partnership, the GHIT Fund invests in Japanese innovation and expertise to tackle diseases of the developing world such as malaria, tuberculosis, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis. In addition to leveraging Japan’s strong science base, the GHIT Fund builds new partnerships by insisting that every project must include a collaboration partner from outside of Japan.

Like Japan itself, the GHIT Fund has an interesting history. It was originally conceived in the pharmaceutical industry – rather than the public or charity sector – following discussions between two giants in the field Eisai and Takeda. By the time of the launch as a five-year $120M program the GHIT Fund had garnered the support of three other companies (Astellas Pharma, Daiichi Sankyo and Shionogi), together with two ministries from the Japanese Government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Wellcome Trust became one of the newest funding partners when it joined GHIT in 2015. With a focus on unmet medical needs and developing new health technologies, the GHIT Fund’s aims are closely aligned with those of the Wellcome Trust, and in particular the Innovations Division. This team works globally to develop new medicines and healthcare technologies, but surprisingly has never before funded science in Japan. This is in part because we lacked some of the close working relationships that we have built up with scientists in other countries over the years. That’s all set to change.

Credit: Hugh Sturrock. Wellcome Images

Credit: Hugh Sturrock. Wellcome Images

By partnering with the GHIT Fund, we’ve been able to tap into new networks of researchers within the Japanese scientific community and so build awareness of the Wellcome Trust, and the opportunities it can offer. It’s a partnership that’s already paying off, and this week we had the pleasure to announce the first two projects that we’ll be supporting through the partnership.

Both are ‘hit-to-lead’ projects that look to develop promising new drug candidates for tuberculosis and malaria, and which began by screening the extensive compound libraries of two of Japan’s biggest pharmaceutical companies. If successful, the projects could then move forward into clinical trials and will hopefully result in new treatments for these diseases.

Both projects enable us to engage with two Japanese companies (Takeda, Shionogi & Co) and an organisation (The Research Institute of Tuberculosis, Japan Anti-Tuberculosis Association) that we have never worked with before. And, importantly, they also enable scientists to work with libraries of chemical compounds from Japanese companies that until now have been difficult to access. It’s an excellent start to what we hope will be a successful partnership.

Find out more about the GHIT Fund, the projects that have been funded and the work of the Wellcome Trust Innovations Division.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: