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NEC ventures into the drug discovery business: pursuing the possibility of developing vaccines for cancer treatment through AI technology

March 7, 2017

The NEC culture that investors have come to rely on has been passed on to the new company

──What do investors outside NEC think of the future of this business?

Kimura:
Fast Track Initiative, which was launched in 2003, is a venture capital specializing in life science and healthcare. Most of our capitalists are specialists in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. One of our major management philosophies is to make investments that support and promote industry-academia research collaborations. Our investment to CYTLIMIC is an exact embodiment of this philosophy. The research leading to the establishment of the company is highly acclaimed in the scientific community, and has great potential to make major contributions in the medical field. These are the main reasons why we decided to invest in CYTLIMIC.

──Aren't there other important factors aside from research achievements that determine the success of cutting-edge scientific research as a venture business?

Kimura:
That's right. When scientific ventures fail, it's not only because the scientific research did not go as planned; there are also many cases where the failure is caused by a failure in management. Although NEC is not a company that specializes in drug discovery, it possesses excellent technologies and knowhow in AI and bio/life-sciences, and is composed of highly trained professionals. NEC being the parent company of CYTLIMIC speaks a lot about the reliability of the new company. President Doi's strong will and determination to take on new challenges are characteristic of the NEC culture that he is bringing in to the new company. I have no doubts in the company's future.

Fast Track Initiative, Inc.: Hiromichi Kimura, CEO and partner

Shimizu:
I believe that even seemingly impossible goals can be achieved by brave adventurers who have a strong will to succeed. The establishment of a treatment that will lead to a cure for cancer is a tall challenge for anyone. That this project has such a strong chance of success is due to two major factors. The first is our fateful encounter with Kochi University and Yamaguchi University in the process of expanding our network in the healthcare field. The second is the presence of brave and strong-willed adventurers like President Doi, who has continued to pursue IT business undertakings in the life sciences, believing in its future potential as an NEC business, and Mr. Kimura, who considered the new business as a promising and significant venture.

Aggressive deployment of AI technologies to other industries

Kimura:
There are still not very many venture start-ups in Japan. I believe we need to continue pursuing start-ups that are suited to the social climate in Japan. For a company like NEC to pursue a new business from an offshoot of their main business–in this case AI–clearly shows the company's high level of commitment. It is also a way to create new career paths for employees working for a large company, and is a good model for promoting "revitalization" of human resources and significantly contributing to the development of the Japanese economy.

──We hope this won't be the only time that the company ventures into a different industry using AI technology.

Shimizu:
We have released a lineup of cutting-edge AI technologies under the brand ‘NEC the WISE.’ These technologies represent our flagship AI technologies for contributing to society. We have already commercialized many AI technologies, such as ‘heterogeneous mixture learning technology’ for automatically and precisely predicting power demand based on complex conditions, and 'invariant analysis technology' for detecting signs of failure in plants from minute changes not detectable by humans. Like the development of cancer immunotherapy drugs, which at first glance seems unrelated to IT, there are many areas that actually have high compatibility with AI technologies, or that can be enhanced and made useful through the further evolution of AI technologies. ‘NEC the WISE’ will play an active and important role in the development of these areas.

Doi:
Going forward, CYTLIMIC, backed by NEC's superior AI technologies, will collaborate with universities and research institutions to pursue open innovation, and continue to carry out R&D in cancer immunology, which has undergone remarkable progress in recent years. Through clinical research on revolutionary cancer peptide vaccines, we hope to play a role in the development of new cancer therapies, and someday help realize a society able to overcome cancer. I believe that is the biggest social contribution that our company can make.

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