Cyberdyne Inc.’s CEO, Yoshiyuki Sankai, is researching ways to repair damaged body tissue. The 57-year-old scientist’s vision: to treat patients with spinal injuries by using stem-cell related technology to repair nerve connections and robotic suits that aid movement.
Sankai’s company is setting its sights on better treating spinal injury patients by combining multiple approaches. It makes robot exoskeletons for physical therapy, and these bionic suits can read bio-electric signals from the patient’s muscles, helping movement in the disabled. Inspired by Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” as a child, Sankai says his years of mapping out the brain’s nerve network for his robots fits with the research into repairing rat spines with stem cells and proteins. His hope is to eventually use various treatments together. Cyberdyne posted revenue of 631 million yen ($5.2 million) and a loss of 915 million yen in the year ended March 31, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
His plans are getting a boost from new policies promoted by Japan’s prime minister who led a liberalization of approval rules to make it one of the world’s quickest places to get a regenerative therapy on the market. Now, Japanese corporations spanning the pharmaceutical and industrial sectors have regenerative medicine on their agenda, and industry groups estimate the domestic market for these therapies could top $25 billion by 2050.
Investors are putting money into research that explores the potential of cells to repair damaged organs and tissues, or reverse degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. “It’s a game changer, and we expect investment to keep pouring in to Japan,” said Sanjeev Kumar, a consultant at market research firm Frost & Sullivan. “After years of struggling with slow returns on investment, regenerative medicine companies across the world see a faster path in Japan, and they’re watching closely.”
Regenerative medicines in Japan can now get conditional marketing approval based on results from mid-stage, or Phase II, human trials that demonstrate safety and probable efficacy. Once lagging behind the U.S. and the E.U. on approval times, there is now an approximately three-year trajectory for approvals, according to Frost’s Kumar. That compares with seven to ten years before.