The Japanese context
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Japan’s universal health system is the envy of the world, and Japanese researchers are conducting world-class medical work, as evidenced by Japan’s four Nobel laureates in the field of medicine, three of which were awarded in the past five years.
But the country is also facing some special challenges, mainly due to its super-aging population. Already more than 28% of Japan’s population is over 65 and that figure is predicted to increase to 35% by 2040. There is thus an urgent need to address age-related health problems such as cancer, heart disease, dementia, diabetes and depression. Fortunately, emerging technologies including artificial intelligence, big data, and regenerative medicine are promising for tackling these challenges. In many ways, Japan is leading the way for other aging societies that will face Japan-like demographics in the near future.
Established in April 2015, AMED is seeking to catalyze the process of medical innovation and overcome the barriers between sectors, connecting talented individuals to accelerate medical research and development. In just three years, we have made significant gains in the fight against many diseases.
For example, as part of the Initiative on Rare and Undiagnosed Diseases (IRUD), genetic analysis systems are more accessible than ever — thanks in part to the data sharing among physician scientists in Japan, which was pioneered by AMED. Through IRUD and the study of genetic analysis, 12 new diseases have been discovered. And more than 800 undiagnosed patients who suffered from diagnostic odyssey over many years were diagnosed within 6 months of registering for the program. IRUD is now contributing to several case matches between Japanese and overseas patients, as AMED empowers global networks for data sharing.
Closely related to this is the Basis for Supporting Innovative Drug Discovery and Life Science Research (BINDS), an AMED initiative that maintains large instruments and facilities, such as cryo-electron microscopes, chemical libraries, next-generation sequencers, and makes them available to researchers who are conducting research in the life sciences that is promising for drug discovery.
In addition, we are constantly seeking to solve antimicrobial resistance — a significant global threat. The Japan Nosocomial Infections Surveillance (JANIS) program, which facilitates the sharing of antimicrobial resistance data between hospitals, will soon be introduced to Southeast Asian countries.
AMED is also interested in reforming and galvanizing the funding systems. Beginning last year, we initiated Cyclic Innovation for Clinical Empowerment (CiCLE), a large-scale program in pursuit of greater medical innovation that fosters human resources. Under a collaborative effort between industry and academia, the program will run for a maximum of 10 years and provide participants the opportunity to develop into talented young leaders — those who can help us progress into the future.