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By 2050, more than 20 percent of the world’s population will be aged 60 or over, a demographic shift that has governments around the globe searching for ways to ensure that their health and social systems are prepared.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Kanagawa, one of Japan’s fastest-aging prefectures, and so the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan Healthcare, Government Relations, and Special Events Committees welcomed Kanagawa Prefecture Governor Yuji Kuroiwa to speak on November 5 at Tokyo American Club. Joining him at the event, entitled Innovative Ecosystems: Bringing Policy and Science Together, was GE Healthcare Life Sciences General Manager of Cell and Gene Therapy Strategy Dr. Philip Vanek.

Under the leadership of Kuroiwa, Kanagawa has become an innovation hub for industrial development and healthy aging. This is thanks to initiatives such as the Healthcare New Frontier package, which Kuroiwa said was created to help overcome the challenges of a super-aged society.

Citing the rapidly shifting demographic, the Governor said: “It is obvious that the current social system will no longer be sustainable. We need to make a drastic policy change based on a totally new concept.”

That concept is ME-BYO, a term that, in Eastern medicine, means being neither healthy nor sick. It centers on the idea that the human body is in a constant state of transition, much like a scale. Rather than waiting for health to decline, ME-BYO encourages people to be proactive, so as to stop further pro­gression or prevent illness altogether.

“When we think of our health, we tend to think that we are either healthy or sick, but the reality is there is no clear-cut line,” said Kuroiwa. “Our state of health gradually changes between healthy and sick every day. We call this state ME-BYO.”

By integrating ME-BYO with new technologies in areas such as regenerative medicine, robotics, information, and communication, Kanagawa is advancing healthy longevity and creating new industries.

During his remarks following Kuroiwa’s presentation, Dr. Vanek said this is a sign that healthcare is changing to focus on the individual. “If I think about ME-BYO, and I think about well-being and health, what I see that is really transformative—about cell and gene therapy, in particular—is this evolution in healthcare. There’s increasing personalization of medicine that stems from deep knowledge following the sequencing of the human genome. There is better awareness and understanding of how biological systems are impacted by environments [as well as] diet, nutrition, exercise, and all the things Governor Kuroiwa introduced.”

Kuroiwa has been busy on the global stage. In July, he presented ME-BYO, along with the Healthcare New Frontier policy, at the United Nations. He said the Japanese healthcare model was well received, and Kanagawa is collaborating with organizations in Europe, Asia, and the United States.

These new innovative policies have quickly turned the pre­fecture into a global leader in biotech, with Tonomachi, in Kawasaki City, being designated a biomedical cluster. New industries and science centers focused on biotechnology and the promotion of ME-BYO have been established there, inclu­ding the Life Innovation Center, Keio University’s School of Health Innovation, the Innovation Center of NanoMedicine, and the Life Science Environment Research Center. Companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Medtronic, and Fujifilm have also set up research centers in the cluster.

Vanek said that for an innovative ecosystem to thrive it must be fostered at every level. “We need universities, medical centers, and the basic research to continue. We need investment both from the infrastructure perspective, in terms of facilities to conduct research, and also to foster innovation on the therapeutic side.”

Using the partnerships that GE Healthcare Life Sciences has in the UK and Canada as examples, he said it took a leap of faith for those governments to understand the importance of innovation to the well-being of their constituency and, ultimately, improving quality of life. “It’s incumbent on the rest of us to take that investment, leverage it, and make good things come from that.”

Aaron Baggett is a staff writer at Custom Media for The ACCJ Journal.

Photos: Embassy of the United States, Tokyo
Kanagawa has become an innovation hub for industrial development and healthy aging.