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Health care in Japan: Regenerative medicine the new buzz

Health care in Japan: Regenerative medicine the new buzz

Submitted By: 22 February 2013 No Comment

Yamanaka-Shinya

Yamanaka-Shinya

In a country whose main male role models seem to be flouncy-haired television “talent”, Shinya Yamanaka is an oddity. The 50-year-old scientist shared the 2012 Nobel prize for medicine for his work reprogramming mature cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. But his career also includes bouts of failure—something rarely forgiven in Japan. He became a folk hero when he won the award.

To add to the surprise, his work has produced a whiff of enterprise in a country whose population and manufacturing industry are both ageing fast. Using iPS-cell patents, business-minded boffins are busy inventing new ways to rebuild retina tissue to prevent blindness among the elderly, for example. The government promises to back such ventures with 110 billion yen ($1.17 billion) of hard cash.

Dr Yamanaka’s success comes just as Japan is reaping the benefits of a transformation in the way it approves, pays for and administers drugs. The aim is to spur innovation and curb rising age-related health costs. The world’s biggest drugmakers are licking their lips.

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