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Nanotis Interview

A startup from the University of Tokyo aiming to realize "rapid testing with saliva, anywhere, by anyone."

Nanotis Corporation is a 2016 spin-out from the University of Tokyo that has been researching and developing next-generation testing devices for influenza and other infectious diseases. The company’s mission is: " To provide all people who combat diseases with rapid and accurate diagnoses.”

We interviewed Lisa Sakashita, CEO of Nanotis, which is GSCC’s first investment.
[Interview date: June 2021]

Lisa SAKASHITA

After graduating from department of Physics, the University of Tokyo with M. S. degree, she joined securities company and so on. She then became an executive at startup company for technology matching service.

ナノティス_坂下氏

Why did you start up a company?

Since my grandfather was a medical practitioner, I have always wanted to be involved in a business that contributes broadly to medical personnel for the health of people. After completing my master's degree, I felt that my mission in my life was to contribute to Science & Technology and Physics by utilizing my management experience at a securities company or startup company.

I was asked by researchers at the Tokyo University who I met by chance in 2016 to start a startup. I felt that I could contribute to both Medical and Science & Technology, which is my mission, and so I took the plunge and started this company. At the time of our founding, our mission was to provide prompt and accurate notice to all people fighting diseases. This is because diagnosis is the first step in fighting the disease in the medical field, and I felt that accurate diagnosis would lead to a great power for treatment and prevention of the spread of infectious diseases.

Why did you choose infectious diseases as your initial target, and why did you focus on influenza in particular?

Nanotisチーム写真

Nanotis team members experimenting in a lab. at The Tokyo University

The initial diagnosis of respiratory infections is very important from the viewpoints of both treatment and prevention of the spread of infection, and we thought that the technology we aimed at would work most effectively as well as matching our mission. For example, Tamiflu, a flu medicine, needs to be administered within 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. The reason why we chose influenza as an infectious disease is because it has a certain number of patients every year, which is rare for an infectious disease, and it is a virus that certainly causes repeated pandemics in human history in the long term.

Furthermore, the diagnostic technology we are developing is a platform technology that can be applied to all respiratory infections, and we regard influenza as just a first target. In fact, COVID-19 has been raging around the world since the beginning of 2020, and as a result, the usefulness of the concept we envisioned, namely "Simple, quick, and inexpensive tests of saliva, regardless of the user's technique" has been recognized anew.

What is your vision after the flu?

As of June 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine is spreading in developed countries, but it is still a long way to go in developing countries, and mutant forms are appearing one after another. However, there are currently no simple test kits that can simultaneously test people for COVID-19 and influenza with saliva. The greatest advantage of our technology is that because of the wide range of concentrations that can be detected, we can simultaneously detect both the novel coronavirus, which has a high virus concentration in saliva, and influenza, which has a low virus concentration in saliva and requires collection of nasal swab.

In the past, new viruses spread throughout the world every 5 to 10 years, but now that awareness of the risk of infectious diseases has greatly changed worldwide, we believe that there is still a great demand for platform technology that can simultaneously detect new viruses that will appear in the future.

What are some of the challenges of running a startup?

Exactly it’s funding. Unfortunately, in Japan, the number of investors who invest in early-phase technology startups after understanding and evaluating the technology is still small. I think it is natural that unless you are an investor with specialized technical talent, you are unlikely to invest in a so-called "tech-driven" startup that starts with the development of elemental technology until you can evaluate the technology.

Why did you decide to get investment from Hamamatsu Photonics?

Hamamatsu Photonics, one of the world's leading companies in the field of photonics technology, praised our technology and I and the members were very honored. In addition, when I actually talked to them, I found that President Hiruma and all the members of the company had a strong passion for new innovations, and I felt very grateful for the opportunity of your participation as a shareholder. In fact, the fact that it was funded by Hamamatsu Photonics is a great advantage in the subsequent fundraising. I hope you will continue to invest aggressively as a valuable CVC that can evaluate and support technology startups.

Personally, there was a facility called Koshiba Hall in the 1st building of the Faculty of Science where I belonged to when I was a master's student at Tokyo University. At the entrance, there was a photomultiplier tube of the same size as the one used for Kamiokande, and I watched it every day when I went to school. So, Hamamatsu Photonics is an idol I have longed for since my school days.

カミオカンデに使用された20インチ光電子増倍管

20-inch photomultiplier tubes used in the Kamiokande project

In what ways do you think Hamamatsu Photonics has been able to support your company since its investment?

Miyazaki, our CTO, as well as myself, have had many opportunities to discuss with the members of the Electron Tube Division, which has been very stimulating. We are currently in the research and development phase, so it won't be soon, but in the future, we will consult with you about the design of detection devices that apply optical technology, for example.

What kind of support do you expect from Hamamatsu Photonics?

After establishing the principle of the technology and completing the prototype, as the next step, we would like you to consider a capital and business alliance based on a technical alliance, and eventually an M&A. The first priority is to make results so that we can receive a favorable evaluation. However, our company has some members who are well versed not only in technology but also in manufacturing and sales of medical devices. We would appreciate it if you could give us an opportunity to consult with you, including the establishment of a future system.

Thank you for being with us today. Please give a last message.

The ultimate goal of Nanotis is to deliver this technology to the field of infectious disease diagnosis as soon as possible, and as I have already said, we are developing this technology having partnerships with a business company and M & A in the future in mind. First of all, we will proceed with our research and development with the primary goal of getting our products highly evaluated by business companies, including your company. When the high evaluation is received, we hope to become a foothold for that company to develop and expand their medical devices, especially in the field of in vitro diagnostics. Also, We are planning to actively proceed with fundraising and recruitment, so please feel free to contact us through our website if you are interested. Thank you very much for your time today.