Since its establishment in 2006 to develop innovative drugs in the area of oncology for the Japanese and Asian markets, bio-tech firm Solasia Pharma KK Solasia has developed a wide range of products varying from pharmaceuticals for cancer therapy to supportive care for the adverse effect of drugs. In this interview, Yoshihiro Arai discusses how Solasia will support Society 5.0 through the development of effective cancer treatment, gives more insight into the company’s products and explains why Solasia has been a major draw for investors.
Japan is rapidly moving towards Society 5.0 where everything would be integrated to improve the quality of life of the society. As a company that would brighten society with medicine for cancer treatment, how is a company like yours supporting Society 5.0?
Brightening society has always been a part of the concept of the company as our main mission is “Better Medicine for a Brighter Tomorrow”. We will contribute to achieving the goals of society by providing cancer treatment.
Could you please run us through the key milestones of your company?
Our first phase was our establishment. Originally it was a business initiation as a joint venture by MPM and Itochu in the USA in 2006. Later, we started operations in 2007 and followed by establishing a legal entity in Tokyo in 2008.
In 2011, we decided to enter China and opened our Beijing office. An additional 2 offices were opened in Shanghai and Guangzhou later. The main reason is even though we think that Japan’s market is already big and stable, it has somewhat poor growth. People see China as a country with great potential. Therefore, we started our business in China in order to grow. This was also when we had the realization to change our name from "Japan Bridge" – which focused only on the Japanese market – to "Solasia", which means Sun for Asia, becoming a connector between Japan and the world.
We were listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange through the Initial Public Offerings in 2017. Shortly after, in 2018, we launched Episilâ in Japan and it was our first visual achievement of Solasia in the pharmaceutical market.
Throughout your 14 years of history, you have been able to license, develop or launch several products such as episil, darinaparsin, Sancuso, PledOx, arfolitixorin. What is the role of Solasia within the oncology market?
Oncology is one of the territories of medicine and medical devices that deal with cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. On the other hand, cancer has been the major cause of mortality in Japan. Everyone wants to have a new medicine to cure cancer, while it is actually really hard to cure. As such, Solasia would like to have the opportunity to contribute to society by focusing on oncology and develop the field of oncology.
Another reason is the general way to cure cancer is combination therapy. That means a single drug would not be able to cure cancer. Several drugs should be combined for the patients, which means we have a chance to enter into those combinations.
In addition, it is relatively easy and takes a shorter time in clinical development in oncology fields compared to other drugs. Besides, it also has a high potential.
Could you please talk to us about your business model and how you able to focus on the different sectors?
As you know, the total development of a drug is very long. It might take 10 years to 20 years from scratch to the results. The fail rate is very high, and the success rate is very low, it is full of risk. When we have finished the phase of basic research, pharmaceutical research, and non-clinical development, we enter the stage of clinical development and the success rate is getting higher. So, our own function is we start at clinical development to create efficiency and make full use of our limited resources and budget.
Our approach is licensing, so we seek a new type of drug or medical device in our territory, such as in Japan, China, and other Asian countries. Then, we start the clinical development and after it finishes, we have partners that do sales on our behalf.
Many Japanese companies are investing massively on R&D, especially in the pharmaceutical industry. Back in 2018, Japan spent a total of 19.53 trillion USD in terms of R&D. Could you please talk about the role of R&D in your company?
Since Solasia is a development driven bio-tech company, we have to invest in R&D to grow continuously. We appropriately seek finance opportunities in a timely manner with commercialized products revenue, especially for in-licensing new compounds and their development cost. Otherwise, we wouldn’t able to create a new compound. Hence, we will continue our R&D to find new compounds that would be useful in the future.
Could you please give us an overview of your products and is there any product in particular that you would like to share with us?
We have three cancer supportive drugs and two cancer therapeutic drugs. One of the characteristics of supportive care drugs in the oncology field is that they could be used for various types of cancer. In addition, the targets of the cancer supportive drug are not only improving patient Quality of Life by eliminating the adverse action towards the drug, but also contribute, maintain and complete the planned cancer treatment schedule.
What are your products and what are their competitive advantages?
Our first product, Sancusoâ(SP-01), is a granisetron transdermal patch. It is the only transdermal formulation in the world among serotonin 5HT3 receptor antagonists. This patch could be used even when it is difficult to take medicines due to nausea, vomiting, and oral mucositis. This medicine is very convenient because the patient doesn’t have to stay in the hospital.
The second one is darinaparsin (SP-02), which is a traditional type of chemotherapy drug, inducing apoptosis of tumor cells as mode of action, initially targeting peripheral t-cell lymphoma. This drug demonstrated statistically significant efficacy in the Phase III study. It could be used in a combination with other compounds, because it has been confirmed that t has a good safety profile, with very few serious adverse events.
The third product is episilâ (SP-03), which is a medical device. It is a non-absorbable liquid which is developed based on Camurus’ patented FluidCrystalâ technology. Thirty to 40% chemotherapy agents cause severe oral mucositis. By using this in small amounts on the oral cavity, only two or three drops, it absorbs the moisture and forms very thin gel to cover mucositis in the mouths and relieve pain.
Currently, there is no available drug to prevent or treat Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN). Our product, SP-04 called PledOxâ, is an intercellular superoxide removing agent. Hopefully, this would be approved to treat the CIPN as we are currently on the most advanced development Phase III stage among developing agents in the world.
Most recently, we got a new exciting product, SP-05, called arfolitixorin. It can directly act on tumor cells, unlike levofolinate and folinate products currently available, which need several steps of metabolism to form the final active metabolite. A global Phase III study is being executed targeting colorectal cancer.
More than 50% of your shareholders are private investors. What is the competitive advantage for the investors that invest in Solasia?
Over 50% of our investors are Japanese retail and individual investors. They compare the investment target between biotech or traditional pharmaceutical companies. If they invest in a traditional pharmaceutical company, they could get a dividend every year. But, the share price of a biotech company has chance to go up.
In Solasia, we have established 5 product pipelines, and it indicates a high success ratio in development. With this evidence, investors will understand that we are not a traditional pharmaceutical company and the value will come in the future. The growth speed and share price are escalating very quickly. This is our competitive advantage and selling point to the investors.
Part of our business is to contribute to patients and medical society. Through drug development, life with good Quality of Life would be very long. This is why our business has to age well as well as making a contribution is for the long-term.
Originally, our business investment was only through two companies that had different intentions with what are we doing now. But we decided that we would like to grow and become independent. If we were settled together with a big company, they would be able to make a decision for our activities. I didn’t want that because it might restrict our future potential contribution to stakeholders; therefore, we chose to go with the IPO and keep our own aim.
Speaking about growth, your company has a licensing partnership with various countries such as China, Southeast Asian countries, and Latin America. Could you please talk to us about your international strategy?
As you can imagine, with the meaning of company name, Solasia, being Sol and Asia, this means that we should focus on Asia first. However, if we have a chance to expand our business in Latin America, North America, and Europe, of course, we would not ignore that opportunity.
If we begin the business in America and Europe, we have to think about resources, money, and time as well, because we have to create everything from scratch. However, in the future, with IoT and AI, changes are happening very quickly and integration is proceeding. I think this has shown us the potential to conduct the business in other continents.
In the meantime, we are looking for partners in various areas to contribute to the development of the medical field in their territory. Later, we would like to establish affiliates overseas as part of our business expansion if situation allows us.
Looking back to history, we are very interested to venture to the centers of pharmaceuticals and biotech; for example Switzerland or the USA. We are also interested in the United Kingdom, Spain, and Sweden as well.
What messages that you would like to convey when people see the brand of Solasia?
Our focus is we would like to become the sun, as it gives the light, and create a bright future for the patients through drugs and medical devices. This is the meaning behind Solasia.
Imagine if we interview you again in 2023, at that time you have become a president for 10 years. What is the dream if your company and what will you accomplish by then?
It is my dream and my company dream to keep a good quality of the products and deliver it securely to the patients, not only in Japan but in various countries overseas as well. We want to continue to contribute to the patient’s life. The second one is we would like to increase our stock price, and contribute to our stockholder. Last but not least, I would like to contribute to the happiness of our employees. These are something that we would like to maintain in the long term as well.