Case Study: OcellO / SME / Search for Additional Partners in Japan

OcellO – from NL

OcellO B.V. was founded in 2011 in Leiden. It is a privately owned contract research organisation based on technology developed at Leiden University. 

SME Activities:  Offering contract research services for the drug discovery industry.
Size: 12 FTE.
Interest in Japan: Currently have partners in Japan, search for additional partners and planning on launching new products in Japan 

 

 

http://ocello.nl

OcellO excels in the development of clinically relevant in vitro human micro-tissue models that can be used for the screening and profiling of small molecules and biologics. The analysis of these models, many of which use patient-derived material, is enabled by OcellO’s unique high throughput 3D imaging and phenotypic profiling technology. As well as providing measurements of cell growth and viability, phenotypic profiling allows the measurement of more complex biology that better correlates with clinical endpoints. Furthermore, compounds with the optimum therapeutic profile or optimum target specific profile can be selected to enable a better ranking of compounds at early stage in the drug development process.

WHY JAPAN?

When asked why he chose to do business in Japan, Mr. Price noted that at first he didn’t consider going to Japan as it would be more difficult to do business there than in Europe.
However, when his colleague came across the EU-Japan Centre’s mission to Japan, it struck them as an interesting opportunity.
It is true Japan has a reasonably big market and a big pharmaceutical industry. Moreover, it is an industry that is very dependent on service providers coming from outside Japan.
From a personal perspective too, Japan drew their interest. Mr. Price pointed out that Japan is an intriguing place and that you may as well enjoy the place you are going to. Driven by these two factors, the company managed to join the mission and make its first steps onto the Japanese market.

STEPS TAKEN

During their stay in Japan in 2014, Mr. Price and his colleague attended the BioJapan fair as part of the Biotech Cluster and SME Support mission organised by the EU-Japan Centre . They did not develop any immediate leads with Japanese companies interested in their services, but they did manage to get in touch with an agent. This agent was a European, but had been living and working in Japan for many years and spoke fluent Japanese.
They made an agreement to include OcellO in the agent’s portfolio that also consisted of numerous other European companies providing services to pharma and could be introduced to Japanese companies. About a year after the mission, Mr. Price travelled again to Japan and this time with the goal to visit potential Japanese business partners that had been identified with the help of the agent.  He went by some 10 companies in a week and upon return he had managed to identify 3 leads. Now in early 2017, he has completed several contracts with one company and is in negotiation with another.

CHALLENGES

When asked about what challenges he faced when doing business in Japan, Mr. Price mentioned two points. 
In the first place, he thought that it was particularly difficult to identify what companies were working on.  In the pharma industry in general there is a lot of secrecy, but he had the feeling that in Japan there is a little bit more. On top of that, the language barrier means that you really don’t know what is going on in many cases. However, their agent had a clever way around this; he would send a list around of all the services that they could provide. The Japanese clients in his portfolio could then tick off what they were interested in and indicate what they wanted to talk about. Remarkably, during some of the visits to interested companies, Mr. Price noticed that they hadn’t ticked off all the items that appealed to them. Only toward the end of the meetings, they would verbally point out their interest in particular services to try to get some insight.
In the second place, Mr. Price said that doing business in Japan was slow.
As an example, he said that with a European it would take 2 or 3 version to get to a fine quote. With a Japanese company on the other hand, it would more likely be 5 or 6 versions.
There is a lot of questions going back and forth, and one has to provide a lot of details.
This means that one has to be very patient when doing business with Japan.
Yet, Mr. Price said that these challenges weren’t necessarily problems, but more obvious differences to get used to.

CURRENT STATUS – NEXT STEPS

Given the contracts he already made as well as the company’s he is still in touch with, OcellO will be active on the Japanese market in the future too. Currently, they are planning another visit to Japan and are looking into launching some new products there. With the help of their agent, they hope to find additional business partners.

Interview made with Leo Price, CSO and Founder of OcellO