(Bloomberg) – Masayoshi Son of SoftBank Group Corp. has bet on everything from chip companies to office space provider WeWork Inc., but he’s taken an unusual turn in his latest venture: sleep disorders.
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Aculys Pharma LLC of Japan, supported by SoftBank’s second Vision Fund, acquired the rights to develop and sell Pitolisant, which is used in Europe for the treatment of narcolepsy and sleep apnea. The drug from the French drug manufacturer Bioprojet Pharma is used to treat involuntary sleep. The goal is to offer solutions that go beyond selling drugs with wearable devices and analyzing data about treatment of people, said Kazunari Tsunaba, CEO of Aculys, in an interview.
The percentage of people who sleep less than the recommended eight hours of sleep is increasing worldwide, combined with stress, alcohol consumption, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and excessive use of electronic media – all of which cost the nation of Japan economic losses of $ 138 billion each year, according to Rand Corp. 20% of all adults in Japan are chronically sleep deprived and 15% feel excessively sleepy during the day, according to the Japan Preventative Association of Lifestyle-Related Diseases.
“Unlike the traditional drug manufacturers who only sell drugs, we are here to tackle Japan’s social problems,” said Tsunaba, who left his job as head of the local unit at Novartis AG in January to set up Aculys. “There are so many societal problems in the field of mental and neurological diseases. We have to find solutions in many areas, for example for patients, care support and the development of treatment apps. “
While narcolepsy and sleep apnea are often treated with narcotics like Provigil or Ritalin in Western countries, Japanese doctors and patients are reluctant to use them because of the risk of addiction, Tsunaba said. Pitolisant is not addicting, he said.
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Aculys will initially focus on developing drugs that are approved overseas but not yet approved in Japan, Tsunaba said. The company will expand into other mental and neurological areas like epilepsy, migraines and Parkinson’s, he added.
The pharmaceutical startup raised 6.8 billion yen ($ 59 million) from funds such as SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, Catalys Pacific, HBM Healthcare Investments, Global Founders Capital, and Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Investment and Anri. SoftBank’s investment director, Peter Park, joined Aculys on November 4th as a director.
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