Astellas has been conducting collaborative research with the Institute of Medical Science, the University of Tokyo (IMSUT) on the rice-based oral vaccine MucoRice against diarrheal diseases caused by cholera, enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (E. coli), norovirus, etc. since the execution of a new collaborative development agreement in June 2016.

In developing countries, diarrhea caused by pathogenic bacteria, such as Vibrio cholera and enterotoxigenic E. coli, is a major cause of death among infants and young children. However, vaccines present several issues, such as the need to store and transport existing cholera vaccines at a constant low temperature, and the fact that vaccines against enterotoxigenic E. coli have not been approved in developing countries.

There are high hopes that MucoRice could be stored at room temperature. Therefore, if the challenges are overcome, it will not require the strict temperature management that is usual for the storage of biopharmaceuticals. The establishment of cultivation techniques that enable efficient production should help reduce medical expenditures for the vaccine.

In December 2017, Astellas, IMSUT, Chiba University and ASAHI KOGYOSHA CO., LTD. signed a collaborative research agreement aimed at the practical application of MucoRice-CTB, a rice-based oral vaccine that expresses the Cholera Toxin B subunit (CTB) in the rice storage protein. Under the agreement, Astellas will examine the conditions for production and formulation of MucoRiceCTB. Meanwhile, IMSUT, Chiba University, and ASAHI KOGYOSHA will develop the production system for the vaccine. This research program has been designated as a project under Cyclic Innovation for Clinical Empowerment and will be supported by the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development.

Through these collaborative research projects, Astellas will attempt to develop new platform technology to create innovative new drugs to address unmet medical needs.