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No. 358, July 1999

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Japanese Companies in the US


MARUBENI CORP. will be a minority participant in the world's first commercial facility for producing ethanol from organic wastes. The project is spearheaded by BC INTERNATIONAL CORP. of Dedham, Massachusetts, which will apply its proprietary biotechnology expertise to convert biomass wastes, such as agricultural residues, municipal waste and forest thinnings, into ethanol for use as a transportation fuel at prices expected to be competitive for the first time with fossil fuels. The BC International plant will be located in Jennings, Louisiana at the site of a former petroleum refinery and grain-to-ethanol facility. The structure will be retrofitted over 18 months at a cost of more than $90 million. Once the switchover is finished, the facility will have the capacity to manufacture 20 million gallons of ethanol a year. Marubeni's interest in the project stems in part from the possibility of transferring to Southeast Asia the experience it gains in transforming biomass wastes into biomass resources.

At an estimated cost of $24.9 million, fellow trader MITSUI & CO., LTD. acquired a minority interest in AGRIFOS L.L.C., a midsized manufacturer of phosphoric acid fertilizer that owns its own rock phosphate mines and has its main factory in Pasadena, Texas. As part of the tie-up with the New York City-head-quartered company, Mitsui will purchase about 150,000 tons of Agrifos' current annual output of some 770,000 tons for resale in Asia outside Japan and in Latin America. It also will supply ammonia and sulfuric acid to the company. METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE CO. simultaneously acquired an equity stake in Agrifos on the same order as Mitsui's after helping to finance the purchase of the Pasadena facility last year. The phosphate fertilizer maker reportedly will use the money from its two new partners to expand yearly capacity to 1.1 million tons or so by 2001.

With demand for nitrogen trifluoride expanding as a substitute for greenhouse gas- producing perfluoroethane to clean semiconductors and liquid crystal displays during production, ANDERSON DEVELOPMENT CO. is in the process of doubling capacity at its nitrogen trifluoride plant to approximately 55 tons a year. The diversified Adrian, Michigan chemicals firm has been making this product since 1997 using technology transferred by parent MITSUI CHEMICALS, INC. The extra capacity, added at a cost of roughly $8.3 million, is expected to be on-line during the first quarter of 2000. Mitsui Chemicals, which acquired Anderson Development in 1988, also has the capability at its Shimo-noseki, Yamaguchi prefecture factory to make about 55 tons of nitrogen trifluoride annually.

Like other midsize Japanese drug companies, SUMITOMO PHARMACEUTICALS CO., LTD. sees a U.S. operation as key to expediting its ethical drug commercialization program for world markets. Although the location and other details concerning its planned American subsidiary still need to be finalized, executives have decided that the new unit initially will oversee clinical trials of a promising treatment for cerebral blood-vessel problems by a yet-to-be-selected contract research organization. The Sumitomo Pharmaceuticals subsidiary should be in business by next spring.

Although its mainline business is polyester and other fibers, TEIJIN LTD. planners are convinced that expansion of the company's pharmaceuticals division is critical to future growth. To facilitate realization of this strategy, Teijin plans to do more foreign clinical testing of its leading drug candidates. On its agenda for the United States is contracting with a CRO next year for Phase II clinical trials of TMX-67, a drug for hyperuricemia, which usually is associated with gout.

Continuing to invest heavily in its pharmaceuticals operations at the same time that it has made a major financial commitment to the international cigarette business (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 355, April 1999, p. 11), JAPAN TOBACCO INC. has agreed to collaborate with ABGENIX, INC. on clinical development of a treatment for psoriasis. ABX-IL8 is a human antibody generated by the Fremont, California biopharmaceutical company using its XenoMouse technology. It has the potential to intervene at multiple steps in the psoriasis process by blocking interleukin-8. Under their agreement, JT will make undisclosed payments to Abgenix to finance clinical trials of ABX-IL8. If those tests appear promising, the Japanese company could obtain the right to use clinical data produced by Abgenix in its own regulatory filings in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan subject to additional funding.

Under an October 1996 arrangement, TAIHO PHARMACEUTICAL CO., LTD. and SRI INTERNATIONAL have collaborated on the development and the evaluation of novel endocrine approaches to the treatment of tamoxifen-resistant breast cancers. That work led to the identification of SR 16234 (TAS-108) as a lead candidate for further preclinical and clinical development. Under their latest pact, the midsize Japanese drug company has licensed from Menlo Park, California-based SRI worldwide development and marketing rights to these compounds in exchange for up-front and milestone payments, plus research and development funding and royalties on approved products. SRI now will improve the chemical synthesis process to ensure that the compounds meet manufacturing cost targets. It also will examine their biological chain of action. This research will be completed by next January. SRI then will launch an expected 15-month preclinical development phase. At that point, Taiho Pharmaceutical intends to file its first investigational new drug application in the United States preparatory to the start of human trials.

TAKARA SHUZO CO., LTD. and Indiana University's School of Medicine have extended a research contract first signed in 1995 involving a gene-treatment procedure for cancer patients known as human recombinant fibronectin. Clinical trials of HRF, which the Japanese partner supplies free of charge, have been underway around the United States for approximately three years. Under the updated contract, Takara Shuzo and Indiana University will expand the application of their gene-therapy technique to five conditions from the former three, which included brain tumors.

An exchange rate of ¥121=$1.00 was used in this report. aaaaaa

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