In the world today, there are still many diseases for which there are no effective treatments, and millions wait in hope of their discovery. One radical approach to this problem that is attracting widespread interest is regenerative medicine, in which human cells are grown artificially and used to regenerate the patient’s diseased or damaged tissues or organs and restore their function. Aiming to lead the way in regenerative medicine, Fujifilm is working to make these extremely promising treatments a reality. This is the story of how Fujifilm is taking on major challenges in regenerative medicine and achieving success in the field.
At first glance, Fujifilm may seem an unlikely candidate to become a leader in regenerative medicine, yet its engagement in the healthcare industry goes back many decades. Founded in 1934, Fujifilm was already offering X-ray film by 1936. In 1983, Fujifilm began sales of Fuji Computed Radiography (FCR), becoming the first in the world to offer a digital X-ray diagnostic imaging system. Through these and many other products, Fujifilm has long contributed to the evolution of diagnostic medicine. In addition, in recent years Fujifilm has contributed to preventive medicine with supplements as well as anti-aging skin care cosmetics, and to medical treatment with pharmaceuticals. In this way, Fujifilm has transformed itself into a company covering prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. As a comprehensive healthcare company, Fujifilm therefore saw the revolutionary treatments that regenerative medicine could offer as a key part of its mission.
Another important factor in Fujifilm’s decision to enter this field was the company’s extensive portfolio of technologies, many of which seemed applicable to regenerative medicine. One example is photographic film, which was Fujifilm’s core product at the time of its foundation and for many years thereafter. Film is a precision chemical product that integrates color-producing reagents and nearly 100 different chemical compounds in total in an ultra-thin layer just 20 micrometers thick. To produce photographic film requires technologies that control many different chemical reactions on a microscopic scale. By coincidence, 20 micrometers is about the diameter of a single liver cell. Fujifilm’s technologies for controlling microenvironments appeared to have extraordinary potential in the world of regenerative medicine.
Fujifilm also possessed a wealth of knowledge about collagen, a protein that is one of the main components of photographic film. In regenerative medicine, collagen plays a critical role in growing cells and restoring tissues. To fulfill demand for the highest quality photographic film possible, Fujifilm had refined a wide range of collagen-based technologies, including methods for processing and controlling the protein, which is extremely sensitive to such environmental parameters such as moisture and temperature. Fujifilm saw a clear opportunity to leverage its collagen technologies in this exciting new field.
If regenerative medicine can progress to the point where it is possible to regenerate entire organs, then there is no question it will bring epoch-making changes to medicine and society. Nevertheless, many technological barriers stand in the way, and such medical marvels are currently seen as lying a decade in the future or more.
Even now, however, Fujifilm believes that it can realize an innovation that will be as important as regenerative medicine itself: using iPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells) to support drug development. In 2012, Professor Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and British developmental biologist John Gurdon were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, drawing global attention to these amazing cells, which Professor Yamanaka had pioneered in his lab.
Able to transform into the cells of any organ or tissue in the body, iPSCs can also grow and increase virtually without limit. Cellular Dynamics International, Inc., which joined the Fujifilm Group in May 2015, is leveraging world-leading iPSC development and production technologies to create an iPSC bank that comprises iPSCs for use in researching various diseases and conditions. Going forward, pharmaceutical companies may be able to use these cells to test the safety and efficacy of new drugs, greatly reducing the need for human clinical trials. IPSCs thus have the potential to revolutionize the drug development process, massively increasing its speed and efficiency. Moreover, drug development supported by iPSCs may in turn lead to progress in regenerative medicine. The incentive to create iPSCs as close as possible to human cells in structure and function in order to effectively develop new drugs can also have the effect of refining them for use in regenerating human organs.
Supporting drug development via iPSCs may synergistically serve to advance regenerative medicine. Fujifilm is adjusting its stance with a view to success in both fields and has already achieved significant results in each.
Leveraging the collagen technologies it originally developed for photographic film, Fujifilm has developed a recombinant peptide (RCP), an artificial protein that acts as an effective scaffold on which to grow cells. To facilitate the use of this RCP in research, Fujifilm offers it as the product cellnest in both solution and lyophilized powder form.
In 2014, Japan Tissue Engineering Co., Ltd. became a consolidated Fujifilm Group subsidiary. This company is a pioneer that launched the first two regenerative medicine products to receive approval from the Japanese government. Japan Tissue Engineering currently offers two main products: autologous cultured epidermis JACE® and autologous cultured cartilage JACC®. The company also handles cell culturing work under commission from other companies and institutions. Cellular Dynamics International has also joined the Fujifilm Group and is contributing its extensive knowledge of iPSCs, which are the key to regenerative medicine. The decision to bring these highly innovative companies into the Group further emphasizes Fujfilm’s dedication to achieving leadership in the field of regenerative medicine.
The regenerative medicine market is expected to grow to some USD 120 billion by the 2030s. Yet for Fujifilm, regenerative medicine is much more than an attractive business opportunity. The real significance of engagement in this market lies in curing currently intractable diseases and bringing new hope to sufferers and their loved ones. Aiming to be recognized worldwide as a leader in regenerative medicine, Fujifilm will continue to move forward with this extremely important challenge.