Improving Quality of Life | Chizuko Koseki | TAGCyx Biotechnologies Inc
Chizuko Koseki, CEO of TAGCyx Biotechnologies, is fascinated seeing how some innovative biotechnologies can help and improve people’s quality of life which makes her committed to challenging convincing people for fundraising, business development, patent protection, intellectual property portfolio establishment, building team, legal agreements which are all necessary for biotech start-ups.
When Chizuko first got involved in TagCyx Biotechnologies Inc. as a consultant in 2015, she instinctively knew the academia start-up could turn around its fortunes by shifting away from DNA tagging to combat counterfeiting instead of placing its focus on drug discovery.
TagCyx was founded in 2007 by Ichiro Hirao, then a researcher for RIKEN, the Japanese biggest scientific research institute. But raising funds proved a challenge for a business aiming to sell reagents for research purposes and anti-counterfeiting know-how for currency and passports using a technology that the former team had developed, for which there was limited demand and very time consuming to monetize the business.
But when Chizuko learned how that technology worked, she was astonished. In a sense, Chizuko was hard to impress because of her decades of gaining expertise in what she describes as “how science turns into business” in London, a global hub for start-ups. Nonetheless, she was particularly intrigued by a scientific paper Ichiro published in 2013, concluding that the same technology could be applied to drug discovery. She advised TagCyx to change direction accordingly. In 2016, the company rewrote its business plan completely to raise the necessary funds and made a fresh start.
Chizuko joined TagCyx as vice president in 2016 when Ichiro was head-hunted to join Singapore’s Institute of Bioengineering and Bioimaging, a government agency. The following year, she moved from London to serve as the startup’s president and chief executive officer. Since then, TagCyx has raised hundreds of millions of yen in capital and turn an innovative technology into the platform called Xenoligo. Xenoligo is capable of generating aptamers — nucleic acid or peptide molecules that selectively bind to specific molecules — from DNA libraries containing both natural and artificial nucleic acid bases. Aptamers can be used for drugs because they selectively act on target proteins, resulting in therapeutic effects.
Located on the University of Tokyo’s Komaba Campus II in the Japanese capital’s Meguro ward, TagCyx is now a pioneering company boasting an innovative drug discovery platform that employs state-of-the-art in genetic engineering and nucleic acids chemistry. At present, the company is jointly developing therapeutic drugs with other companies — for treating conditions such as alopecia areata, a disease that causes hair loss; anti-blood clotting; and Hunner-type interstitial cystitis, a kind of chronic bladder disease — while advancing partnership projects aiming to develop treatments for cancer and drugs for regenerative medicine.
Despite initial hardships, TagCyx’s drug research and development effort have produced robust results. Chizuko explains, “ideas for drug discovery have surfaced one after another in the last few years.” Nonetheless, discovering and developing drugs requires considerable time, so raising funds remains challenging for the company. To date, TagCyx has received funds from several Japanese venture capital firms, including UTokyo Innovation Platform Co., Ltd. (UTokyo IPC) and The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners Co. (UTEC). In the future, TagCyx will aim for a stock exchange listing to obtain the significant funding injection required to ensure its rapid growth.
In the future, TagCyx will focus on drug discovery for autoimmune diseases and women’s health in addition to domains that cannot be covered by antibody therapeutics. Chizuko says she wants to scale up her company so that it can handle clinical testing. Currently, TagCyx is conducting joint research with U.S. and South Korean firms. Still, Chizuko eventually wants to see TagCyx opening offices in London and Boston and establishing itself as a global company. “The real thrill of being in biotech is to be able to see, from beginning to end, the scientific results produced by university researchers becoming beneficial to society,” Chizuko adds. So, she has no regrets about switching her research career to that of an entrepreneur, which she finds exciting.
Believing that Japan is good at identifying innovative technology seeds which are often invisible outside Japan and underestimated, Chizuko thought she could globalize and promote its proprietary technology platform the TAGCyx team developed and possess. With a solid science background as a Ph.D. qualified pharmacology researcher in Japan, the USA, and Europe, her global experience with business negotiation skill and leadership have contributed mainly to TAGCyx’s start-up business stage to the next level of the growth stage. Chizuko believes a CEO’s role is an orchestration of company members’ teamwork as a conductor and does feel she operates with family members who are all growing together.
Her entrepreneurial mindset was primarily influenced and mentored by her former boss, Shinichi Tamura, currently a chairman of the Sosei Group. Working in Sosei’s London office and trying to establish the first business model in the world, a drug reprofiling project, she was fortunate to learn how to negotiate and think about an innovative business model aiming for business growth. It was her learning time and converting her academic carrier to the business side. Chizuko was excited to see with her eyes how academic life science/technology can be transformed into actual business in the biotech industry and then influence people’s life. Notably, she took an early flagging role at Sosei, bringing a morning-after pill to the Japanese market, as she believed Japanese females should have an opportunity to control their pregnancy.
“For the days to come, TAGCyx Biotechnologies Inc. will develop and launch some innovative medicines available for treating childbearing age female or under-treated patients, such as preeclampsia using the second generation of an apheresis system and Hunner-type interstitial cystitis,” says Chizuko. “We are also developing a new medicine for Alopecia Areata with our partner company based in the USA.”