An interview with CEO Hideaki Ogasawara has been published on the website of FoundX, an incubator run by The University of Tokyo.
Here is an unofficial translation.
Hideaki Ogasawara, CEO of Tanso Biosciences
Connections with The University of Tokyo
- Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine in 1995
- Took a one-year residency program at the university hospital in 1995
- Earned a PhD at graduate school of medicine in 2003
Tell us a little bit about your business.
We contribute to new drugs with our innovative assay. We have been marketing our services since we had the international patent of our technology filed in July 2019.
From plants to vertebrates, there is a big group of proteins called G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) on cell surfaces. Their role is to transmit signals from the outside of the cell to the inside. The human has about 800 GPCRs, and more than 200 of them are essential in maintaining our physiological functions, from blood pressure and blood sugar levels to cognitive functions and moods. For this reason, GPCRs have been attractive targets for pharmacotherapy. In fact, ~40% of the drugs in the market are said to exert therapeutic effects by acting on GPCRs. However, there are limitations with existing methods to assay GPCR activities, leaving many GPCRs undeveloped as drug targets.
Recently, researchers at the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo, invented a revolutionary GPCR functional assay that would dramatically expand opportunities in GPCR drug discovery and accelerate R&D (patent pending). Unlike conventional methods, it works very well with all GPCRs with high sensitivity and at a low cost. We use this technology and screen for effective and safe compounds very efficiently to develop drugs and help pharmaceuticals' drug discovery.
How did you come up with your business idea?
My two co-founders had been studying GPCRs for years and already had the basic idea of our business when I joined the team.
How you did you meet your co-founders, and what led you to start your company?
The three of us co-founded our company. The other two had been studying GPCRs together in Japan and the US for over 15 years. One of them was my ex-classmate in med school and also my colleague in our first two years of residency.
When I was working for a pharmaceutical company a few years ago, I engaged in a joint development project with a biomedical startup on the East Coast. I had frequent business trips and online meetings. Every time I talked to them, I was so overwhelmed by their enthusiasm that I began to wonder, "If entrepreneurship brings so much energy and passion, I would love to experience it someday. Aren't there any great seeds around me?"
Just around that time, my ex-classmate and his colleague invited me to their lab and asked me for comments on their business idea since I was in the pharmaceutical industry and seemed knowledgeable to them. No sooner had I learned about their invention than I realized that it was what I was looking for. I was convinced that it had the potential to solve the industry's pain, i.e., new drugs were getting harder and harder to develop. I decided to join them straight away.
What books, articles, and other information sources did you find useful when you started your business?
- Innovation — From Creativity to Entrepreneurship Specialization: a series of MOOCs provided by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
- Coffee Shop Life Technologies, written by Tokurontinus: I read this informative, engaging, and encouraging story when I was thinking about our business models. In it, life science graduates found a company and overcome adversities.
- Silicon Valley: a sitcom in which ... (I don't think English-speaking audience needs an explanation). The main characters' struggles appear to overlap with ours, although they are in a remote business field and in a remote country.
- "Entrepreneurial Finance" and "Entrepreneurs' Equity Finance," written by Tetsuya Isozaki.
Words to future entrepreneurs from your university?
As Steve Jobs said, what you've learned and experienced may somehow connect in your future and open up lots of possibilities in an unexpected way. So, I believe it extremely valuable to immerse yourself in a given situation and absorb as much as you can while you are there. In my case, I learned medicine and saw patients. I studied a GPCR at graduate school and then acquired programming skills to do my postdoc research. I worked in the pharmaceutical industry and had a glimpse of US biotechs. I took an MBA program with no clear goals in mind but just to build a sense of security. Each time I merely chose whatever I found interesting or worth doing, but looking back, all have ended up with my entrepreneurship.
It is crucial to team up with people you can trust and be perfectly frank with. Your family's understanding and support are essential, too. It is prudent to manage risks, for example, by securing the day job while you try a side business in your leisure time.
After doing clinical practice and postdoc research, he worked for Astellas Pharma Inc. for eight years and engaged mainly in pharmacovigilance, clinical development, and in-licensing assessment before he co-founded Tanso Biosciences in September 2018.