Dojindo has been producing well-reputed chemical reagents used by research organizations all over the world for over 100 years. We sat down with Dr. Yuichiro Ueno, President of Dojindo, to learn more about the company’s rich history of innovation and technological breakthroughs.
As a developer and manufacturer of products in the life sciences and medical fields, how does Japan’s ageing population impact your industry and Dojindo Laboratories in particular?
Japan’s ageing population does not really impact us at Dojindo more than companies in any other industry, as we mostly focus on improving the implementation of existing research rather than new academic research. However, we are on the forefront, implementing new medical research solutions to address Japan’s ageing population, since we work to introduce finished medical research products onto the market.
On a personal note, beyond business, I believe that Japan’s declining birth rate is a serious issue as it will lead to a lack of workers in the near future. I would like to see more government cooperation with the private sector to improve the work-life balance for working Japanese people, so more people can have the opportunity to have children.
As an organization that does significant research, development and manufacturing, do you feel that the potential rise in labour prices that comes with Japan’s ageing population would affect your business as there are fewer young workers to learn from retiring professionals?
I don’t believe that a scarcity of qualified workers is an issue for Dojindo in the short term. Our location in Kyushu has helped us, as we can consistently recruit several bright young employees from various excellent Universities in Kyushu and Western Japan. Though not directly linked to a potential demographic crisis, I would also like to see more action done to address local issues, for example educating young people about the signs and symptoms of diseases.
Unfortunately, the reagent is not well-known by people yet even though reagents help our lives a lot. To make the public more aware of the reagents’ contributions, we have been organizing an event called DoFes (Dojin Festival) where we invite our employees and their families to our place and let them experience the science together with reagents. We have also been supporting a Kumamoto regional scientific event for children to encourage future scientific professionals. I hope these activities can be carried out on a much bigger scale in the future to give opportunities to young talents who know the importance of the reagents.
Dojindo has three main business lines: original products, custom synthesis contract services, and custom analysis and consulting through your affiliated company, Dojin Glocal. How do those three streams synergize to benefit the company overall?
Like a cell, these teams all work together to make Dojindo an effective and competitive business. All these synergies are working together to introduce high quality, well researched and developed reagents. We are particularly proud of our accomplishments in cytotoxicity measurements. Cellular functional analysis unites almost everything we do while the special products we create for customers add benefits and help us direct our R&D as we move forward.
Could you tell us more about your bilingual research publication, Dojin News? How does Dojin News inform and benefit your business?
Dojin News showcases and promotes our latest advances and upcoming breakthroughs. It also draws researchers to our company who are interested in our advances in biomedical technology. Published research also helps us test the customer enthusiasm for our upcoming projects, as well as build trust with clients as they can respond to our work from the research and development phase. In a way, Dojin News is a two-way project, helping us recruit interested researchers and showcase our advances, while also receiving feedback on our projects.
Dojindo Laboratories is well known for the CCK-8, a cell counting kit with over 5,000 academic papers written on its practical uses. How were you able to develop this product and why do you think it has been the subject of so much academic research? What makes cell counting so important for life science?
What became CCK-8 was originally a project to develop a compound for diagnostic research purposes, but we found that it could be used for cell assays, and, importantly, it had no issues with water solubility. Previously, a type of cell assay compound called MTTs was used, but it had issues with water solubility. In that way, CCK-8 is a combination of not only our research and development work, but also of critical thinking to find an excellent use for a compound that was originally developed for a different purpose.
CCK-8 became an almost essential reagent for many researchers as it measures cell proliferation, cell viability, and cytotoxicity, making it an indispensable tool for determining cellular vitality in many fields of research.
Dojindo Laboratories also provides custom compound synthesis services to the Japanese market. Japan has become a global centre for regenerative medicine, with many researchers and pharmaceutical companies coming to Japan to take advantage of the market. Why do you think Japan has become such an attractive market for foreign companies? Why should foreign firms come to Dojindo for custom compound synthesis contract services?
Custom synthesis is a very important part of many industries and Japanese companies, including Dojindo, have an excellent reputation in terms of manufacturing quality. Dojindo strives to go beyond just synthesising compounds and works with our partners to fully explore any opportunities that may present during compound synthesis. Dojindo is able to offer a high level of technical ability and control when it comes to compound synthesis. All of our products, including our well known CCK-8 and EDTA are manufactured by Dojindo ourselves.
Unfortunately, custom synthesis is not yet at the level where it can be used for regenerative medicine, but we have hope that it will in the future.
Dojindo is a solution provider: from the synthesis of EDTA in Japan, to the upcoming release of a new measurement kit for amino-acid uptake, which can be used in the research of age-related diseases and cancer. Can you elaborate on your process of identifying a problem and finding a solution?
For cancer research, Dojindo has two research and development divisions. We have one in Kumamoto and another one in Kawasaki. Our Kawasaki division is primarily focused on long-term innovative research goals, especially for innovative cancer research. This latest product came from research from that division. The existing technique to measure amino-acid uptake requires specialised machinery and the use of either chromatography or radioactive isotopes. Our product will reduce the cost of amino-acid uptake measurement and make the process safer. Cancer is not a new disease, but many people still suffer from it. We are happy to be able to contribute in a way that will lessen that suffering by making its treatment cheaper and safer.
For all the downsides of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have also been a few silver linings, including a thriving logistics sector. What mid-to-long term changes has the pandemic brought to Dojindo?
The first year of the pandemic was very difficult for Dojindo, because COVID-19 caused many of our customers to slow or stop their operations. Still in late 2021, we are having some logistics issues and several delays that negatively impact our business. The increase in the price of raw materials also caused difficulties for us.
You highlighted the collaborative nature of CCK-8’s development earlier. What role does collaboration and co-creation play in your business model? Are you currently looking for any new partners, either in Japan or abroad?
From an academic point of view, we have a long track record of working with distinguished universities and researchers, with whom we pride ourselves on our co-creation and co-research with them, especially in regard to medical advances. Sometimes we contact them, other times they contact us, but in both cases, we work collaboratively to produce better reagents.
Dojindo does not usually reach out to find partners, rather we find areas of research that we are interested in pursuing, and then meet partners organically due to those mutual interests.
We are chemists and we are interested in chemistry, but last year we developed our first device, which measures biofilm activity. Since we don’t have the capacity to produce the physical device ourselves, we found partners to manufacture it locally as well.
Since 1996, Dojindo has expanded internationally, from the United States to the Netherlands, Germany and China. Looking to the future, are there any more markets you’re interested in expanding to?
Historically, we were focused on our expansion in the United States first, but we gradually expanded into Europe and now into China as well. We now are most interested in expanding further into the Asian market, especially in Southeast Asia. Ideally, we would have a distributor in each of those countries. We are interested in finding more distribution partners in Europe as well.
The Asian market is, in a way, miraculous; there are abounding cultures, ideas and competitors. Therefore, there is a lot to benefit from being present in this region, this is why we are so interested in entering more Asian markets particularly.
From our internal point of view, the most important thing is finding people who are interested in the research we do. Since our establishment, we have put great value on human capital. Our goal is less to become a “global company” and to focus more on what we do best, being the finest reagent company and finding the greatest solutions for our field.
The philosophy of our company is that reagents allow people, from the most basic foundational research level, to understand something that was previously not understandable. Reagents open doors to new discoveries, this is what reagents are all about. We are really proud of what we do. We have reagents that are indispensable for research, development and manufacturing. Our philosophy has been kept since our company’s establishment to keep making possible what was thought to be impossible.
Last year your company is celebrating its 75th anniversary. What direction do you see Dojindo Laboratories going, and where do hope it will be for its 80th anniversary?
It would be essential for us at Dojindo to adhere to our philosophy and continue to develop innovative tools for scientific research and with our core foundation of reagents. We will strive to contribute to scientific findings and new medical advances. This relates not just to our major executives, but to every single employee in the company. Human capital is indispensable to us. Needless to say, we will not change our philosophy in the next 5, 10, or 20 years.
The possibilities are limitless for us, there are so many industries that employ reagents. It is hard to imagine the world without reagents, they have various applications; from medical research to food research, to environmental research, and so on, and each of these have many subsections. For that reason, we cannot see a ceiling for reagents and our potential for progress.