Companies provide materials for vaccines


TOKYO >> As foreign pharmaceutical companies have drawn attention to their COVID-19 vaccine development, a diverse list of Japanese companies are providing vital raw materials for vaccine production.

Yamasa Corp., a Shoyu company founded in 1645, for example, supplies pseudouridin, which is important for the production of messenger RNA (mRNA). Messenger RNA is an important genetic material used in Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Pseudoouridin has been the key to the rapid development of coronavirus vaccines. Messenger RNA had been considered difficult to use in vaccines because its introduction into the body caused inflammation, a reaction of the immune system.

But Hungarian researcher Katalin Kariko and a colleague found that by replacing uridine with pseudouridin, a component of mRNA, mRNA was easily retained in the body.

Yamasa entered the pharmaceutical field in the 1970s using its research to make umami ingredients. It has exported pseudouridin abroad since the 1980s.

Until recently, Yamasa’s expeditions were small and used primarily for research purposes, but the pandemic was a game-changer. The company’s sales of pseudouridin have increased “dozens of times” since the pandemic.

Yamasa’s sales for the fiscal year ending December 2020 reached $ 508.2 million, of which around 10% was from its pharmaceuticals business. But the company has plans. “We want to make pharmaceuticals a pillar of our income on par with our pillar, soy sauce,” said Toshitada Noguchi, Managing Director of Yamasa.

Meanwhile, large glassmaker AGC Inc. is engaged to produce plasmid DNA, a raw material for Pfizer’s vaccine, at its plant in Germany. Plasmid DNA acts as a mold for the transcription of genetic information into mRNA. The company plans to expand its production line to meet the growing demand.

Other companies are involved in the production of vaccines. Fujifilm Corp. is engaged to manufacture vaccines developed by Tokyo-based biotech startup VLP Therapeutics Japan LLC, and equipment owned by chemicals maker Daicel Corp. will be used to produce DNA vaccines jointly developed by medical startup AnGes Inc. and Osaka University.

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