Kyoto University Prof. Shinya Yamanaka, who heads the CiRA Foundation, explained reasons for establishing it as a public interest incorporated foundation and his future prospects in a recent interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun. Excerpts from the interview appear below.
The Yomiuri Shimbun: What made you establish the CiRA Foundation?
Shinya Yamanaka: Our philosophy is to provide medical care using iPS cells as soon as possible. What is most important is offering such care at prices that are as reasonable as possible.
I worked hard at the Center of iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA) at Kyoto University, but I became acutely aware of the limitations that have arisen as a result of being part of a national university.
To overcome them, I decided to establish the CiRA Foundation as a public interest incorporated foundation.
One of the limitations was the difficulty in securing the best talent. At the center, only a few dozen full-time employees are eligible for retirement allowance. The remaining employees are temporary workers funded by fixed-term government subsidies. So, if the government budget had been drastically reduced, we wouldn’t have been able to keep them, nor increase the number of full-time employees at our own discretion. As a result, talented people ended up leaving the center for pharmaceutical companies.
Taking this into consideration, I decided to establish a public interest incorporated foundation separate from the university to open the way for hiring more full-time staff.
Q: Cells derived from iPS cells, will eventually be manufactured by companies. How does the foundation work with the private sector?
A: The center has provided iPS cells to commercial companies for ¥100,000 per container and to research institutes free of charge. The new foundation will maintain the current price. We hope companies considering the clinical application of iPS cells will make effective use of them.
The foundation will gather and share information and know-how from each company that handles iPS cells. This will greatly reduce the burden on companies.
The foundation will serve as a bridge between the center and such companies.
Q: What are your thoughts on overseas research?
A: I believe that the medical iPS cells we have provided to date can meet U.S. screening standards. Companies are interested in whether they can be used in the huge U.S. market. What is concerning is the impact on prices.
When pharmaceutical products are priced higher first in the United States, they will end up being expensive also in Japan. I hope the work to put iPS cells into practical use will proceed in Japan as so much of the science has been developed in Japan. If they can be set at appropriate prices in Japan, they will be made available at reasonable prices also in the United States.
Q: Can iPS cells be used in studies of the new coronavirus?
A: If iPS cells are created from patients’ blood, various studies could be conducted with possibilities that they can lead to the development of preventive and therapeutic treatments. We can’t study the virus at our facility, but there are many things we would like to do if we can work with other research teams.