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YMC: Bringing biopharmaceuticals to the world

Interview - March 10, 2021

By reducing the cost of expensive biopharmaceuticals through its unique advanced chromatography technology, YMC hopes to make biopharmaceuticals available to more people globally. In this interview, Ryuji Yamamura explains how YMC specializes in a one-stop-shop business model for the world’s pharmaceutical organizations, having expanded its presence globally to where many of the world’s top firms operate.


What is the essence of monozukuri and how has Japan leveraged this to be the leader of high-precision manufacturing?

The industrial structure of Japan's manufacturing sector is characterized by a broad base, underpinned by a large number of small and medium-sized companies with very high levels of technology. Because the supply chain is so strong, companies are able to concentrate their resources on refining their core technologies.

In addition to this, the Japanese have always been good at providing customer-focused, finely-tuned products and services, and the KAIZEN culture and manual dexterity have combined to keep us at the top of the world in terms of technology.


How are you going to tackle foreign markets and what can YMC bring to those new countries?

Five years after its foundation in 1980, YMC established a sales company in New Jersey, USA, and has since expanded to Europe (Germany), India, China, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Switzerland. As YMC's main customers are pharmaceutical companies, we have expanded our presence in the regions where the world's leading pharmaceutical companies operate. As a result, overseas sales now account for over 70% of our chromatography sales.

We have been able to achieve this growth by working closely with our customers to refine our purification technology and provide them with the high-performance products they need, which is the very essence of Japanese manufacturing. In order to reinforce such activities in the future, we will actively invest in research facilities and recruit engineers at our main overseas bases. We are currently constructing a laboratory at YMC America (Massachusetts) to carry out joint research with our customers, which will be operational from the second quarter of this year.


Can you tell us about your main competitive advantages?

Looking at the business model of the world's chromatography manufacturers, few can offer a one-stop-shop for everything from lab-scale analytical columns to high-volume purification packing materials, from consumables to large-scale chromatography equipment for pharmaceutical production, and few can even offer method development to help customers understand how to use their products more efficiently.

Whereas most manufacturers can only offer a single chromatography product, such as a packer or an instrument, the greatest strength of YMC's business model is that we are able to offer our customers a platform or solution that allows them to determine which packers, which instruments and which methods can be applied to achieve maximum production efficiency.


Can tell us about your Bioseparation and Chiral technologies?

Biopharmaceuticals, such as antibodies, peptides and nucleic acids, are considered to have a very high direct effect on the treatment of disease, unlike traditional low-molecular-weight drugs, and the market for them has grown significantly in recent years. On the other hand, the cost of production is very high and it is important to improve the efficiency of the chromatographic process to purify the drug substance with high purity.

As mentioned earlier, YMC offers the best solution for each customer with its triadic platform of consumables, instruments and methods, which is its greatest strength. By reducing the cost of expensive biopharmaceuticals through our unique advanced chromatography technology, YMC hopes to make biopharmaceuticals available to more people around the world. To achieve this goal, YMC plans to invest 10 billion yen globally over the next five years to improve its research facilities and to recruit new technicians.


What do co-creation and joint development mean to YMC? Is the company currently looking for partners?

YMC has been very active in forming alliances with other companies. For example, in the purification of antibody drugs, we have worked with Bristol-Myers Squibb at their Boston site to develop a purification platform that applies our unique and innovative continuous chromatography method to dramatically improve purification efficiency.

Similarly, in Japan, we started working with PeptiDream and PeptiStar to develop a platform to dramatically improve the productivity of specialty peptide drugs. The platform has already been evaluated in the laboratory and has shown a significant improvement in purification efficiency, and we hope to introduce it on an industrial scale by the end of 2021.

As YMC is still a growing company, we intend to actively leverage our partnerships with leading global pharmaceutical companies/CDMOs, as described above, in order to promote our revolutionary continuous chromatography technology globally and rapidly. We look forward to hearing from you if you are interested in reading this article.


What is your international strategy to take advantage of the growth set to hit your industry? Do you have any new products to share with our readers? Are you looking to break into any other fields or gain any new clients?

Again, I mention YMC's unique and revolutionary continuous chromatography technology. As mentioned in the Bristol-Myers Squibb section above, it is a breakthrough technology that has the potential to increase the productivity of purification processes in pharmaceutical manufacturing by 2-3 times.

ChromaCon (Zurich, Switzerland), which YMC acquired in 2019, has exclusive rights to use the intellectual property and the patent itself, and manufactures and sells a pilot device for laboratory use. In addition, YMC Process Technologies (now YMC America) in Massachusetts, USA, which YMC acquired in 2018, has commercialized industrial-scale equipment, including CGMP-compliant equipment, and is continuing to receive orders from BMS and other global CDMOs. It is noteworthy that the FDA, which strongly advocates the continuous production of pharmaceuticals, has purchased our continuous chromatography system to verify the effectiveness of our purification technology as one of the key elemental technologies to achieve continuous production.

As for your question about expanding into other fields, we are currently concentrating our resources on continuous chromatography technology and peripheral business areas of our existing business, and have no plans to enter new business areas or to acquire new customers.


What is your midterm strategy? If we return in two years, what would you like to tell us, what are your dreams for the company and what would you have accomplished by then?

In five years' time, we aim to have doubled our current consolidated turnover to 20 billion yen and more than doubled our global workforce to around 1,000 people. We are also planning an IPO after the third year prior to this.

When we meet in two years' time, our purification platform, based on our continuous chromatography technology described above, may be widely recognized as the global standard technology for the production of biopharmaceuticals, and traditional, outdated purification equipment/technology may be replaced by our latest technology. And when this happens, our five-year plan may well be to achieve sales of 100 billion yen.