SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son bets on narcolepsy drug for sleep-deprived Japan


Masayoshi Son of SoftBank Group Corp. has bet on everything from microchip companies to office space provider WeWork Inc., but has taken an unusual turn with its latest foray: sleep disorders.

Japanese company Aculys Pharma LLC, backed by SoftBank’s second Vision fund, has purchased the rights to develop and sell pitolisant, which is used to treat narcolepsy and sleep apnea in Europe. The drug, manufactured by French drug maker Bioprojet Pharma, is used to treat involuntary sleep attacks.

The aim of the purchase is to provide solutions beyond selling the drug, using wearable devices and analyzing data to treat people, Kazunari Tsunaba, CEO of Aculys, said in an interview.

The proportion of people sleeping less than the recommended eight hours is increasing around the world and is associated with stress, alcohol consumption, smoking, lack of physical activity and excessive use of electronic media, which cost the population. Japan up to $ 138 billion in economic losses each. year, according to Rand Corp.

According to the Japan Association for the Prevention of Lifestyle Diseases, 20% of all adults in the country are chronically sleep deprived and 15% feel excessively sleepy during the day.

“Unlike traditional drug makers, who only sell drugs, we are here to tackle Japan’s social issues,” said Tsunaba, who stepped down as head of the local unit at Novartis AG to launch Aculys in January. “There are so many social problems in the field of mental and neurological diseases. We need to find solutions in many areas, such as for patients, support for caregivers and development of treatment applications.”

While narcolepsy and sleep apnea are commonly treated in Western countries with narcotics such as Provigil or Ritalin, Japanese doctors and patients are reluctant to use them due to the risk of addiction, Tsunaba said. Pitolisant is not addicting, he added.

Aculys will initially focus on developing drugs that have been approved overseas but not yet in Japan, Tsunaba said. The company will expand into other mental and neurological areas such as epilepsy, migraines and Parkinson’s disease, he said.

The pharmaceutical startup has raised 6.8 billion yen ($ 59 million) from funds such as SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, Catalys Pacific, HBM Healthcare Investments, Global Founders Capital, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Investment and Anri. SoftBank’s chief investment officer, Peter Park, joined Aculys as a director on November 4.

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