Author: Brian Conlin

Corporate Collaborations

Mitsubishi Tanabe, Hopkins Scientists Shedding Light on Psychotic Disorders

Mitsubishi Tanabe, Hopkins Scientists Shedding Light on Psychotic Disorders


Since 2012, Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation and Johns Hopkins have collaborated to identify early-stage biomarkers for psychotic disorders in young adults. The results of this five-year collaboration may help doctors more accurately diagnose and identify the best course of treatment for those suffering from psychosis, such as those with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other psychotic disorders.

The relationship between Mitsubishi and Johns Hopkins stems from the unique challenges inherent to this area of drug development. Effective treatments have proven elusive because psychotic disorders are biologically heterogeneous, meaning several factors can be attributed to their development.

“The gap between reliability and validity in diagnosis has long confused pharmaceutical companies,” says Dr. Akira Sawa, director of the Johns Hopkins Schizophrenia Center and professor of psychiatry, mental health, neuroscience and biomedical engineering in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health. “They try to make the drug for schizophrenia, but the nosological concept of schizophrenia is not supported just by biology.”

Sawa has led a research coalition of several departments from across the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and will soon present to Mitsubishi Tanabe the five most promising molecular candidates for their drug screening targets. While the results could mean better care for those suffering psychotic disorders, a particularly unique component to this collaboration could facilitate future industry-academic relationships.

Dr. Akira Sawa
In addition to working with Johns Hopkins colleagues as part of his departmental coalitions that include scientists and clinicians from psychiatry, neurology, radiology, neuroscience, biomedical engineering, dermatology, otorhinolaryngology and pediatrics, Sawa has trained two data scientists and four wet bench scientists from Mitsubishi Tanabe as postdoctoral fellows.

The six scientists have come on a rolling basis with a maximum of three at any given time. Sawa says their experience and training resembles that of other Johns Hopkins postdoctoral fellows.

“The scientists from Mitsubishi Tanabe have received a lot of exposure by coming to Johns Hopkins because we provide them the opportunity to have a multi-departmental experience,” Sawa says.

Data scientist Nori Ogaru was the last Mitsubishi Tanabe scientist working with Johns Hopkins as part of this collaboration, and he recently returned home to Yokohama, Japan. For nearly two years, Ogaru collected and analyzed imaging, molecular, neuropsychology and smell test data sets, giving him an opportunity he had never had while working at Mitsubishi Tanabe.

“Until coming to Johns Hopkins, I had never touched human clinical data,” Ogaru says. “I hope that this will lead to the development of a new drug. Mitsubishi Tanabe is excited about the results.”

Working closely together enables academia to have a greater understanding of the focus and style of industry and vice versa, says Yukiko Lema, a clinical research program manager in the Johns Hopkins Schizophrenia Center.

“Sometimes there is a gap between entities,” Lema says, noting that academia focuses more on patient care and publishing while industry focuses on its business portfolio. “It’s the same research, but the focus is different. This collaboration has showed us what industry partners look for.”

At the same time, the opportunity to work with human clinical data has given Ogaru a better perspective on how his work can impact human lives.

“I worked in early-stage drug discovery, far from the side of medical care,” Ogaru says. “I had never felt the urgent need of the drug before. Now, I’m more encouraged. I would like to develop a new drug and give back to the patient. That will be my contribution to medical care.”

View JHTV’s ongoing industry collaborations here!



11 Startups with JHTV Ties Rank Among Baltimore’s Best

11 Startups with JHTV Ties Rank Among Baltimore’s Best

In the last six months, Personal Genome Diagnostics (PGDx) raised a $75 million series B, Harpoon Medical sold for $100 million and Sunayu acquired Fractal Technology. Which Baltimore startup is next?

According to, businesses associated with Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (JHTV) are leading the next generation of Baltimore startups. Last week, the publication released the realLIST to catalogue the city’s “top companies who have already shown promise.” The top six companies ranked and 11 of the 20 mentioned have ties to JHTV.

THE CRITERIA selected a group of startups tackling diverse challenges related to manufacturing, education, health care, social issues and more. To determine “promise,” considerations included:

  • Boldness of idea
  • Talent levels of founders and team
  • Customer base and revenue
  • Investment capital
  • Potential impact
  • Office space



1. READY Robotics
The FastForward startup based in City Garage enables small- and medium-sized manufacturers to unlock the productivity and potential of robots. The company’s software, which it installs in pre-made manufacturing robots, allows manufacturers to change the tasks their robots perform in hours, instead of days or weeks.
2. Osmosis
A venture in the 2013-2014 Social Innovation Lab (SIL) cohort, Osmosis has created web- and mobile-based interactive learning experiences and an online community to help medical school students study. The startup co-founded by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine students recently expanded into print.
3. FactoryFour
FactoryFour is a solution that automates manufacturing processes for the production of orthotics, eyewear and footwear, reducing lead time and eliminating errors. Johns Hopkins University undergraduates Param Shah and Alex Mathews co-founded the company and used a number of JHTV resources. In addition to participating in SIL’s 2015-2016 cohort, the Mount Vernon-based startup received funding and mentorship through the Summer Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Award.
4. Intelehealth
Led by Johns Hopkins University graduate student Neha Goel, Intelehealth operates in the telemedicine space and is developing a mobile app that improves access to health care for remote and underserved communities. Intelehealth was a member of the 2016-2017 SIL cohort.
5. Proscia
Operating in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Proscia is ushering in an era of computational pathology. Proscia CEO David West, who founded the company with other Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering undergraduates, aims to give pathologists a quantitative view of cancer, enabling them to improve patient outcomes. Proscia received funding and mentorship from JHTV’s Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund.
6. b.Well
B.Well’s online platform puts people at the center of their health care by simplifying access to health data, insurance and on-demand health services. The startup participated in the M-1 Ventures accelerator where it grew its pipeline 300 percent and won one of two $25,000 awards.
8. B-360
B-360 is on a mission to end the cycle of poverty and build bridges in communities through a STEM education program and advocacy program centered on Baltimore’s dirt bike culture. B-360 participated in Social Innovation Lab as a member of its 2016-2017 cohort.


Sunrise Health
Co-founded in 2016 by two Johns Hopkins University students, Sunrise Health is developing a mobile app for anonymous, text-based group therapy that increases mental health support for patients and maximizes health care providers’ efficiency. Sunrise Health participated in the 2016-2017 Social Innovation Lab cohort, received support from the Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund and the Whiting Student Initiatives Fund.
BurnAlong provides an online video fitness and wellness platform that enables users to work out with top instructors from across the country and their friends. After participating in M-1 Ventures, BurnAlong had 400 business partners and more than 3,000 members. The company also won $25,000 through M-1 Ventures.
Portable Alternative Crib
Shantell Roberts distributes safe sleep baby boxes and supplies to Baltimore families to reduce the rate of sudden infant death syndrome in the city. She was a member of the 2016-2017 SIL cohort, winning the $25,000 prize at the conclusion of the program.
A member of FastForward, PathoVax is developing a universal Human Papillomavirus vaccine. Co-founded by two Johns Hopkins University graduate students, the startup recently received two federal grants totaling $2.5 million that will help the company push its first product to clinical trials.

Click here to learn more about Johns Hopkins startups!


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