Unlocking the commercial and medical potential of Japanese science via entrepreneurship

Talk at Roppongi Hills Club by Robert Kneller, J.D., M.D., M.P.H., Professor, Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST),University of Tokyo. Professor Kneller's JD is from Harvard (1980).

Unlocking the commercial and medical potential of Japanese science via entrepreneurship


By most indicators, including Nobel prizes, Japan's contribution to international scientific progress is quite credible. However, Japan is poorly represented in commercial applications of new science and engineering discoveries. Dr. Kneller has documented this clearly in the case of innovative pharmaceuticals. But it is also the case in fields as diverse as regenerative medicine, bio-devices, photovoltaics (solar panels), and micro-sensors for a variety of industrial applications. In all these fields, new companies are in the global forefront of commercializing new products, but hardly any of these new companies are Japanese. The only Japanese companies active in these new fields are old companies. They generally excel in applying new science to their core businesses - but not in developing a broad range of applications of new scientific discoveries. In other words, among developed countries (including Korea and Taiwan), Japan seems to be uniquely handicapped by relying exclusively upon old companies for innovation in new areas of science.

This talk will not dissect the multiple causes of this phenomenon, except to note that the inability of old companies to broadly develop new scientific discoveries probably is not due to a lack of collaboration between old Japanese companies and university researchers. In fact, there are hints that the very closeness of such collaborations in elite Japanese universities diverts the research focus of professors and graduate students away from potential groundbreaking applications of their research.

Instead this talk will focus on Dr. Kneller's experience in trying to open a second path to commercializing promising Japanese scientific discoveries, namely the creation of new companies that will assume the risks and potential rewards of developing such discoveries - either to the stage where big companies are interested in taking on development themselves, or to the stage where the new company can grow and continue innovating on its own. Entrepreneurial Japanese companies in science and engineering face unique challenges not faced by American and even European startups. But Japan offers some advantages, too. Based on examples of trying to move forward several promising biomedical discoveries, Dr. Kneller will sketch out a roadmap for commercializing promising biomedical discoveries by forming new companies - a roadmap that may offer some guideposts for startups in other industries. One of the basic points is that success depends upon the startups being internationally oriented from birth. This includes openness to overseas investment, and aiming for international validation, regulatory approval, and markets.  


Time and Date: April 2nd (Thursday) 19:00 - 21:00pm (Doors open at 18:30pm.)

VENUE: Roppongi Hills Club, 51fl, Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, 6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku http://www.roppongihillsclub.com/visitor/dfw/en/common/pdf/map.pdf

Admission 5,000 yen includes standing buffet dinner with cash bar for all beverages. 

Registration: Please use the form on the righst side of this page. 


Speaker Bio:

Professor Kneller's research has focused on startups, entrepreneurship, intellectual property, university-industry technology transfer, and the importance of these factors for innovation and the development of biomedical discoveries for public benefit. Recent works include a survey of company perspectives on research collaborations with universities (PLOS ONE, 2014), a study of the origins of all the new drugs approved by the US FDA 1998-2007 which shows the importance of new companies for the discovery of innovative pharmaceuticals (Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, 2010) and an analysis of the Japanese and American environments for science-based entrepreneurship and the importance of science-based startups for innovation (Bridging Islands, Oxford 2007). Following a sabbatical in Stanford Medical School (2010-11) to better understand the support systems for science-based entrepreneurship in North America and how Japanese entrepreneurs can link to these systems, the focus of his work has shifted to (1) ways to foster the growth of startups based upon Japanese discoveries, particularly ways to help such startups to grow by developing international ties, and (2) ways to encourage inventions in Japanese universities to meet important health needs (invent for health).

He is board certified in General Preventive Medicine having completed his residency and public health studies in Johns Hopkins University. His MD is from Mayo Medical School (1984). He has a JD from Harvard Law School (1980). Kneller graduated from Swarthmore College in 1975 with a major in physics and minor in economics. From 1988 to 1997 he worked in the US National Institutes of Health, first as a cancer epidemiologist, then in science policy, and finally at the coordinator for clinical cooperative R&D agreements with industry to develop NIH cancer drugs. He has worked in China on epidemiology studies and in clinical medicine and public health.  

For inquiries, please contact veritas@fa.catv-yokohama.ne.jp