Japan Eyes U.S. National Institutes of Health as Model for a New Agency

TOKYO—Japan's government may create its own version of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to foster medical innovation and bridge the gap between the laboratory and the clinic.

The proposal is included in a draft Growth Strategy approved yesterday by the administration's Industrial Competitiveness Council. The plan notes that a "Japanese NIH" could better meld governmental, academic, and private sector efforts "in order to strongly support the commercialization of innovative medical technologies." The new agency would be expected to "formulate a comprehensive strategy and prioritize goals and research targets for medical R&D." In other health-related recommendations, the plan calls for legal and regulatory action to speed up approval of new drugs and medical devices.

The quest for innovative technology that can boost the economy goes beyond health care. The council mentions another U.S. institution, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, as an example of a "strategic innovation creation program" worth emulating. The plan calls for giving the existing Council for Science and Technology Policy a stronger hand so that it can better coordinate research efforts across ministries. It also mentions a host of measures—including changes to patent laws and tax incentives—intended to help turn research at national labs and universities into economic gains and to support private R&D.

The plans for technological innovation are small but important pieces of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Growth Strategy, which also includes recommendations to streamline the agricultural sector, promote the participation of women in the labor force, and enhance the competitiveness of Japan's manufacturers. It is due to be endorsed by the Cabinet tomorrow.