Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani was ready to do anything for his father, who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Mikitani flew all over the world to search for a new and innovative treatment, which could possibly save his father. His journey eventually led him to Miguel Garcia-Guzman, a scientist exploring ways to conquer cancer once and for all. This fateful encounter led Mikitani and Dr. Garcia-Guzman to join forces to support the development of the biotechnology company that would later be known as Rakuten Medical. Today, Rakuten Medical is shaped by its journey and fateful encounters over the past decade.
In 2010, in San Diego, Miguel Garcia-Guzman founded Aspyrian Therapeutics, Inc. The following year, top biomedical journal, Nature Medicine released a paper about photoimmunotherapy, a potential new treatment for cancer developed by a team led by Dr. Hisataka Kobayashi of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the United States. In 2012, Mikitani learned his father had cancer and searched all over the world for treatments. In the same year, Dr. Garcia-Guzman succeeded in obtaining an exclusive license for further development of NCI’s photoimmunotherapy technology, the foundation of Rakuten Medical’s Illuminox™ platform, and was searching for an investor. In 2013, during his search to find a treatment for his father’s cancer, Mikitani was introduced to Dr. Kobayashi, a cousin of his friend Mr. Tetsuya Shimpo, whom he had known since founding Rakuten Ichiba (the largest e-commerce site in Japan). Although only pre-clinical data were available at the time, Dr. Kobayashi made a convincing case to Mikitani that the mechanism and innovation of this technology was promising. “This could be it” he thought, and instantly decided to support the development of the technology at Aspyrian Therapeutics.
Unfortunately, Mikitani couldn’t save his father. However, now the mission to save his father became a mission to save people. Together with Dr. Garcia-Guzman, he accelerated development of precision, cell-targeting investigational therapies on what would become Rakuten Medical’s proprietary Illuminox™ technology platform. In 2015, the company submitted an Investigational New Drug Application (IND) for Phase 1/2 clinical trials in the U.S. for RM-1929 + 690 nm Illumination for the treatment of locoregional, recurrent head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (rHNSCC). In 2017, the company established a presence in Japan and began clinical trials there. In 2019, determined to become a leader in the pharmaceutical and medical device industry, the entire company rebranded to Rakuten Medical.
In 2018, ASP-1929, the company’s first investigational product developed on the Illuminox™ platform, received Fast Track designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In 2019, it was also designated under a Japan Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare Fast Track designation system called Sakigake.
“CONQUERING Cancer” has been Rakuten Medical’s mission since its founding. We will walk hand-in-hand with patients and support them to create a society where they can live their lives to the fullest. We are committed to developing a treatment for as many patients as possible, as soon as safely possible, with an ultimate goal of conquering cancer one day.
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* Illuminox™ is not the brand name of a drug nor device.