The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Osaka is said to be the birthplace of Japan’s pharma­ceutical industry. Many medical innovations have sprung from the city and healthcare remains a core industry. Today, the Kansai region as a whole continues to develop its medical infrastructure as Japan seeks answers to the healthcare challenges of tomorrow.

On October 12, the Kansai Chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) and the Union of Kansai Governments (UKG) held their annual panel discussion at the Kobe Portopia Hotel. This year’s theme was “Creating a Patient-Centered Healthcare Ecosystem.”

The event, which drew a crowd of more than 100 people, was organized by the ACCJ-Kansai External Affairs Committee—co-chaired by Akio (Arthur) Matsumoto, president of LS7 Corporation and Steve Iwamura, partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu LLC—with the help of Yasuhiko Iida, Eli Lilly Japan K.K. marketing director, who was the chief event planner and moderator. Neal Jansen, director of the Asia office of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, served as emcee.


To explore the issues facing Japan’s healthcare system, an esteemed group of industry experts gathered. From the ACCJ, these panelists were Eli Lilly Japan President Patrik Jonsson, Bristol-Myers Squibb K.K. Executive Officer Catherine Ohura, and Dr. Hana Hayashi, Asia–Pacific director at McCann Health. They were joined by UKG panelists Kizo Hisamoto, mayor of Kobe, Seiji Hamada, vice-governor of Osaka, and Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation Chief Digital Officer Dr. Ryo Shimizu. The event was presided over by Hyogo Governor and UKG President Toshizo Ido.

In conjunction with its bid to host the 2025 EXPO, Osaka announced in March its proposed theme: “Designing Future Society for Our Lives.” Hamada explained that, central to this vision, are the aims of prolonging life expectancy and rejuvenation.

According to Shimizu, it is no longer enough for pharma­ceutical companies to only manufacture drugs. They also need to become more involved with preventive care and look for ways to improve the overall patient experience during long-term treatment.

Several world-class infrastructures already exist in Kansai, and Shimizu noted the Kobe Biomedical Innovation Cluster (KBIC) as an example. One of its architects, Dr. Tasuku Honjo, is a 2018 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which he shared with US immunologist James P. Allison.


Hisamoto described Kobe’s efforts to lower healthcare costs through preventive measures and explained the city’s goal of becoming more livable for dementia patients and their families. The city government is currently collaborating with the United Nations World Health Organization Centre for Health Development and Kobe University on a dementia study project that seeks to:

  • Identify and reduce risk factors
  • Discover innovative approaches for early detection
  • Develop community model for effective dementia management

Hayashi believes that the creation of a new patient-centric public health policy is necessary, due to the global trend of longer lifespans and the growing need to treat chronic diseases. And Bristol Myers Squibb’s Ohura added that, while drug development and innovation are critically important, preventive healthcare and the innovation of non-drug products and services for patients should not be overlooked.

Moreover, because patients, hospitals, and care providers are all customers, it is important for drug manufacturers to proactively seek consumer input and feedback.

Japan, arguably, has one of the best national healthcare systems in the world. But, as the population ages, sustainability has become an issue of increasing concern. For every retiree in Japan, there are only two workers.


Jonsson pointed out that a strong workforce is critical to the economic sustainability of the Japanese healthcare system. He also suggested several actions that the Kansai region could take to further secure healthcare sustainability, create a more patient-centric healthcare ecosystem, and increase quality of life:

  • Capitalize on the region’s strengths in chemical sciences and engineering by investing in translational research (applying findings to medical practice) to create an infrastructure in which Japanese seed technologies can be developed through pre-clinical and clinical phases to become medicines for people worldwide.
  • Continue to pursue primary and secondary prevention of illnesses and diseases in ways that are more patient-centric.
  • Maximize efforts to develop data-digitalization technology and artificial intelligence that will benefit patients.

The panelists agreed that more stakeholders need to be involved and that they must work together. Iida concluded that coordinated efforts between the public and private sectors are necessary to develop and sustain a multidimensional framework. Only then can a patient-centered healthcare ecosystem be achieved—one that includes interpersonal support for families and social networks, organizational support for social institutions, and support for community and public policy.


The ACCJ and Healthcare

ACCJ–EBC Health Policy White Paper 2017:

Lengthening Healthy Life Spans to Boost Economic Growth

Healthcare is a strategic investment in the single most vital resource of the nation—its people—helping them live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. The high productivity level of the Japanese labor force is a primary source of global competitiveness for the Japanese manufacturing and services sectors, and a key reason that many foreign companies choose to invest in Japan. Faced with an aging population, attention is shifting more and more to the question of how to invest in health in a way that increases labor productivity and economic competitiveness.

In this comprehensive white paper, the ACCJ and the European Business Council in Japan (EBC) outline policy recommendations based on the belief that investing in the health of the Japanese people will not only result in a higher quality of life, but could also boost economic competitiveness by reducing worker absenteeism and disability while increasing labor productivity.


Viewpoint: Advanced Modeling and Simulation Strategies Key to Medical Countermeasures and Pandemic Planning

In this official viewpoint from the ACCJ Healthcare Committee, it is proposed that the Government of Japan (GOJ) adopt more advanced modeling and simulation strategies—including value-focused, model-informed drug discovery and development—in the creation of medical countermeasures (MCMs) and revision of public health strategies related to pandemic planning. In doing so, the GOJ can provide maximum protection for its citizens during naturally occurring or manmade public health emergencies. Adopting such techniques would help provide a more quantitative framework in which to evaluate, develop, and cost-effectively deploy MCMs during a healthcare crisis.


These documents can be downloaded from the ACCJ website at

Preventive healthcare and the innovation of non-drug products and services for patients should not be overlooked.