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Satoshi Ōmura, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Kitasato University, has won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015

Congratulations to Dr. Satoshi Ōmura

Congratulatory Message

We would like to express our sincere congratulations to Dr. Satoshi Ōmura, Advisor of the Kitasato Institute and Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Kitasato University, on winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015.

Dr. Shibasaburo Kitasato, who founded the Kitasato Institute, succeeded in producing a pure culture of the tetanus bacilli, and then led the establishment of sereotheraphy. For his achievement, Dr. Kitasato had been a candidate for the 1901 Nobel Prize, but he missed out on the prize. Given this history, we are proud that Dr. Ōmura has received the Nobel Prize.

In November, 2014, we celebrated the 100th memorial year of the Kitasato Institute. It is very meaningful that Dr. Ōmura wins the prize "this year" as the first step of next 100 years.

"Throughout my career as a researcher, I have pursued this goal of helping others", he said at a press conference held on October 5. "If you are doing what others do, you cannot surpass others."

We wish Dr. Ōmura the best in all his endeavors to aid the academic growth of the younger generation and improve health care around the world.

Kiyotaka Fujii
Chairman of the Board of Trustees
The Kitasato Institute

Hirosuke Kobayashi
Kitasato University

Professor Satoshi Ōmura's Official Site

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Honoring and respecting his predecessors, he searched for ways to contribute to public welfare through "Research Management"


Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the discovery of Avermectin, a statue was placed in the entrance of Kitasato Institute for Life Sciences. A child is leading an adult who has become blind due to Onchocerciasis. Similar statues exist in Switzerland (WHO), the United States (World Bank, Merck & Co.), and Burkina Faso (APOC headquarters).


Turning points always come from first encounters

Prof. Ōmura has long believed that new encounters offer unlimited potential and opportunities. He first "met" microorganisms immediately after finishing his Masters degree. The meeting came about while he was researching brandy brewing, working under Professor Motoo Kagami of Yamanashi University, who is notable for his research in producing wine. Since then Prof. Ōmura has experienced numerous notable encounters, which can only be described as 'sheer luck', throughout his research work in natural product and microbial chemistry. When results from a medical examination just before he entered the Kitasato Institute indicated the possibility of tuberculosis, the then President of the Institute, Professor Tojyu Hata, personally diagnosed him, stating "nothing abnormal detected". After joining the institute, while in the process of determining the structure of the antibiotic "leucomycin", Professor Haruo Ogura offered him a new opportunity to work in Natural Products Chemistry. In addition, Yukimasa Yagisawa, General Manager of the Japan Antibiotics Research Association, facilitated an opportunity for Ōmura to go to work abroad in the United States. While encounters with extraordinary mentors such as these are too numerous to mention, Ōmura considers his most important encounter to be with Professor Max Tishler of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, which took place in 1971. At the time, Ōmura, who had followed up on the leads given by Dr. Yagisawa and approached several contacts in the US, was contemplating offers of pay and working conditions he had received from five professors he had sent an application to. However, one of the five actually telegraphed him with an offer but the annual salary was strikingly low, around half of what the others were offering. Ōmura decided to accept the lowest offer, thinking "if the pay is so low, there must be something else behind it". The sender of the telegraph was Professor Tishler.

What awaited him was nothing but the best

"Something" was indeed hidden in the offer. Max Tishler arranged a position as a Visiting Professor for Ōmura in a new Chemistry department that he had established following his retirement as Head of Research at the US-based pharmaceutical company Merck & Co.. The position allowed Ōmura to exploit both the department's human resources and its excellent laboratory facilities. In addition, Prof Tishler became the President of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest Chemistry community. Tishler was also widely recognised as the person responsible for restoring Merck & Co. to its position as one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies.

As a result, internationally-renowned researchers and entrepreneurs, who would normally be inaccessible to young scientists, visited Prof. Tishler on almost a daily basis, and he introduced Ōmura to the distinguished visitors as a colleague and key member of his research team. "I was only abroad for a little over a year, but the time I spent were rich and fruitful", Ōmura recalls. The experiences abroad, coupled with his personal background as a national competitor in cross-country skiing, led Ōmura to believe that placing oneself among individuals with superior abilities and learning from them is of paramount importance for success in any field. After he obtained a post as Professor at the Kitasato University School of Pharmacy, he launched the Kitasato Microbial Chemistry (KMC) seminar, in which he invited only world-class researchers from Japan and internationally to take part. Furthermore in 1990, the year following Professor Tishler's death, he launched the Max Tishler Memorial Symposium in honour of his mentor and friend, who had exhibited such excellence in research and teaching, with several collaborators going on to be awarded a Nobel Prize.


Picture: When Ōmura first entered the Kitasato Institute, he regularly came to work at 6am out of sheer joy of being able to focus on his research.


Picture : The biggest turning point of his life; working abroad - with Professor Max Tishler at Wesleyan University (right) in 1971

An Academic-Industrial Alliance for Fruitful Research

A request to return to the Kitasato Institute was sent to Ōmura in 1972. Thinking that it would be impossible to establish a well-funded research programme back in Japan, Ōmura scrambled to find a US-based company to partner with, using his willingness to conduct joint research in new pharmaceuticals as a bargaining chip. Ōmura finally opted for an exceptional deal with Merck & Co. created thanks to Prof Tishler's personal connections (especially with Dr Lou Sarrett his successor as Head of Research) and invaluable assistance in negotiating with the company. The international academic-industrial alliance set up marked a precedent all such future partnerships and became a model for many hugely significant future developments.

Immediately following his return to Japan, Ōmura established a laboratory to discovery lead, naturally-occurring compounds for development into veterinary drugs, the animal health field being full of massive commercial promise. He went around Japan collecting and analyzing soil samples in a quest to find microorganisms that held potential medicinal properties. Countless samples proved worthless, but he did produce a handful of highly significant results, such as the discovery of Staurosporine. In 1974, Ōmura discovered Streptomyces avermitilis (later named avermectinius). This microorganism produced a compound, avermectin, which exhibited unheralded antiparasitic properties, including extremely potent anthelmintic activity, as proven through animal testing by Merck & Co.. An interdisciplinary, international research team developed the compound into a derivative named Ivermectin, which following its development by Merck & Co, and introduction onto the market in 1981, quickly became the best-selling anthelmintic among livestock farmers worldwide. The beneficial effects of the product and his remarkable accomplishment was widely covered by the media in Japan. In addition, Ōmura was ensured a long-term, high royalty income from the proceeds of all sales of products based on avermectin and ivermectin.


Picture : "The life and times of ivermectin: a success story" to celebrate the 25th anniversary, "Nature Reviews," a scholarly journal featured his research. (2004)


Picture : The Actinomycete which produces Avermectin. It was discovered from a soil sample collected in Shizuoka prefecture. The original organism is safely preserved.
*2 Renamed as the "Tishler-Ōmura Lecture" in 2008, after the merger of the Kitasato Institute and Kitasato University
*3 An antibiotic discovered from an actinomycete belonging to the Streptomyces genus. It has been attarcting attention in recent years due to its anticancer properties.

Ivermectin effective on intractable human diseases

Ivermectin was also found to have various beneficial properties in human health. It proved to be a groundbreaking discovery by demonstrating excellent and extremely safe medicinal effects in preventing and treating Onchocerciasis (commonly known as River Blindness), a human disease widespread in Africa and Latin America. After working closely with the World Health Organization to prove that the drug worked and was safe, a ground-breaking precedent was arrived at to donate ivermectin free of charge (under the brand name Mectizan®) to treat Onchocerciasis, starting in 1988. Multidisciplinary, multisector and highly successful disease control programmes were established in Africa and Latin America where the disease occurs. They continue to this day, freeing some 120 million individuals worldwide from infection – all thanks to Ivermectin. In addition, the drug is now being widely used to treat other infections and diseases, such as Lymphatic filariasis, strongyloidiasis, and scabies, some of which are prevalent in Japan. Today, ivermectin is administered free of charge to around 300 million people each year around the world.


Picture: In Ghana, where ivermectin is helping to eliminate Onchocerciasis. Even the children know all about the drug (2004)


Picture : The African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) project annual partnership forum (2005)

Considered management for research purposes

At the time that Ōmura began his collaboration with Merck, The Kitasato Institute was devoting the majority of its human resources and assets to develop and expand Kitasato University, which had been set up by the Institute in 1962. The Institute's resources became scarce and, being notified his laboratory would be closing down, Ōmura began to pool research funds from outside resources and arranged to "borrow" his laboratory and employees from the institute, becoming able to continue research on a self-pay basis. His efforts were extremely fruitful, as exemplified by the discovery of avermectin.

In the past, Shibasaburo Kitasato had advocated and practiced his personal motto, "to apply the results of science to improve the quality of life for people." His work in managing Tsukushigaoka Yojoen, a hospital specializing in tuberculosis, while simultaneously directing efforts to increase the production of vaccines, helped formulate this concept. Ōmura also followed this approach throughout his career and, serving in various positions, from Auditor to Associate Director to Director, he vowed to preserve The Kitasato Institute and to propagate the working philosophy. In order to focus on managing to best effect, he relinquished his post as Professor at Kitasato University when he became Associate Director of The Kitasato Institute, even though "at the time, I didn't even know how to read a balance sheet" he recalls. However, upon receiving direct training from specialists, he took the initiative in rebuilding the institute's management and overall operations. One component of the plan that Ōmura came up with was to open a second hospital. Using income from the avermectin royalties and aware of both the national need for more high-quality medical facilities, he found the ideal location for the new facility at Kitamoto in Saitama Prefecture. Naturally, building a large-scale, state-of-the art hospital would have a direct impact on the roles and survival of local hospitals and clinics. Sure enough, the local medical association strenuously objected to the plan. Ōmura and his staff worked ceaselessly to emphasize the significant and mutual benefits the new hospital would bring to the community. In order to obtain the land-use permit, Ōmura continued to plead that "The Kitasato Institute is a Japanese treasure" and continually lobbied senior and junior politicians and public officials, with local residents quickly joining in to support the movement. Finally, in 1989, the new complex, including a nursing school and vaccine production plant, saw the light of day, marking the birth of the Kitasato Institute Medical Center Hospital (KMC).


Picture : Kitasato Medical Center (KMC) surrounded by nature. It is a designated site for disaster management and clinical training.
*4 An endemic disease caused by a nematode that ultimately leads to blindness

Management is to foster individuals

KMC is "a hospital with art", bringing a whole new meaning to medicine being the "art of healing". Artworks of various sizes are displayed in the wards, waiting rooms, hallways and public spaces - all of which were donated, bought using the royalties fund, or collected through public advertisements, on a scale to put art museums to shame. In the obstetric and pediatric departments, the walls were actually painted by a student from Joshibi University of Art and Design, where Ōmura now serves as President. The intention was to help put the visitors at ease. KMC began following the concept and practice of 'Healing art" at a time when the notion did not really exist. Furthermore, Ōmura points out another critical advantage of the artwork, "the students at Kitasato Nursing School are able to study in a setting surrounded by creative and passionate art. Emotions develop and passions grow - I think the 21st century is an era of emotions,", he explains Ōmura's passion for teaching overlaps with his expertise in institutional management. Ōmura emphasizes that the word 'management' intrinsically contains the notion to, as he says, "foster individuals. In the Tales of Genji, when Hikaru Genji gave his son Yugiri to a stranger, he told him 'please teach him the ways of management'. In the process of developing, each individual possesses a unique vision, which in turn allows them to grow personally. Through management, individuals are fostered, and the individuals grow, take their place in and contribute to society. Therefore, management is a pivotal factor in human resource development", he concludes.


Picture: The hallway of KMC, filled with artwork.

Under the name of The Kitasato Institute

In 2008, together with Tadayoshi Shiba, President of Kitasato Gakuen, Ōmura drove forward the merger and integration of The Kitasato Institute and Kitasato Gakuen. The two institutions had always been more or less indistinguishable, based on their founding principles and their interlocked history. With the physical and human capital of both august entities combined, it was believed they would be able to establish a stable, leading-edge research infrastructure and a leading seat of learning and research. As an All-Kitasato, "the whole would be greater than the sum of the parts" allowing the newly created facility to make a greater and more rapid contribution to society. During the lengthy deliberations about the merger and creation of a new corporation, Ōmura insisted on keeping the name "The Kitasato Institute" as an indispensable requirement. Even those individuals who previously held a pessimistic view became persuaded by Ōmura's persistent claims that "The Kitasato Institute is one of Japan's national treasures". The alumni from the institute showed reassuring support as well. "How can I continue research that can be applied to improve the quality of life for people around the world? 'Research management' is my life-long agenda. If I put in my best efforts in whatever I do, there will be people that support it," Ōmura reminisces. Truth indeed.


Picture: Integration agreement was reached with a firm handshake (2006)

Taking Shibasaburo Kitasato's philosophy to heart

Shibasaburo Kitasato profoundly respected his mentor, the internationally famous Dr. Robert Koch, throughout his lifetime. He regarded every accomplishment he had made as an instructional gift from Dr. Koch. Even after he returned home from his work in Germany, he never forgot to appreciate Dr. Koch's kindness and support. The continuing special relationship between the Kitasato Institute and the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin has lasted for over 100 years and is a perfect embodiment of Kitasato's philosophy and teaching. Ōmura holds Kitasato's values and sentiments to be of paramount importance. They have always guided his approach, as can be seen in his enduring respect and friendship for his own friend and mentor, Max Tishler.


Picture: With Director Burger at the Robert Koch Institute

International diplomacy of technology

There is an innovative spirit at Kitasato, always striving to discover new things and apply them to improve society. Currently, Ōmura's research group has initiated the "NEXT Avermectin" project. Thanks to Ōmura's vision and leading role, collaborative research is being conducted with The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation of Brazil in a joint-effort to find cures for Chagas' disease (very prominent in Brazil), Leishmaniasis and Schistosomiasis, enabling multidisciplinary interactions between researchers from both continents. From international interaction to international impact, the driving factor for overseas collaboration mostly stems from the success of avermectin. A recent example of this reality is "ME5343", an insecticide for agricultural use (to exterminate aphids), jointly produced with Meiji Seika Pharma Co.,Ltd. The Japanese commercial partner will take charge of domestic distribution, and Germany's chemical manufacturing company BASF will be responsible for international marketing.

The next generation of academic-industrial alliances

"Development of useful chemicals originating from microorganisms in an important approach to the dundamental philosophy; do what is Kitasato-like and what is only possible at Kitasato," comments Professor Toshiaki Sunazuka from the Kitasato Institute for Life Sciences, one of Ōmura's successors and one of his former students. Working under Ōmura's coordination, he strives to continue the productive research and development pioneered by his mentor. Just as Ōmura directed his focus overseas, "collaborating with researchers and pharmaceutical companies overseas is a critical component for success," says Sunazuka. Taking on a prominent role in the next generation of research and development, Sunazuka has been entrusted to drive forward research on Macrolides to find new useful products. By combining expertise in organic synthetic chemistry with exploration of naturally occurring microorganisms, he seeks to develop new medical cures and treatments to combat inflammatory diseases.

Everything stems from developing relationships

Ōmura has always treasured novel encounters and surprises everyone with his wide circle of friends and acquaintances. The winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Barry Sharpless is one of them. It was only one month before receiving the prize that he gave a lecture at a KMC seminar. He was invited to the Max Tishler Memorial Seminar sponsored by Ōmura and visited Japan again for a meeting of a joint research project that he proposed and has since hosted several graduate researchers from Ōmura's group. In December of 2011, Ōmura was surprised by a visit from two old friends. They were classmates from the graduating year of 1954 from Nirasaki High School. During his high school years, "Ōmura was very athletic and popular, but he wasn't so studious," laughs Shogo Takayanagi (who now runs a consulting office in Saitama City). Hiroyasu Uchida (former commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, and Managing Director at the Educational Foundation Nikaido Gakuen, who had moved to Yamanashi from Tokyo) comments, "We were in separate classes, but somehow we got along." Both agreed that, "Ōmura hasn't changed at all." "I can tell you that he wouldn't be here if it wasn't for his mom and his wife," smiles Takayanagi. Even though Ōmura may not verbalize it, he must have the same feeling deep down, he adds. Nodding in agreement with Takayanagi's comment, Uchida remembers the early days in Yamanashi, "we had to live a tough life because the social climate was so strict. I'm sure it influenced our lives in many ways." When Ōmura decided on attending Yamanashi University, Takayanagi thought that he would probably become a science teacher or a local village head. However, Ōmura had suddenly exhibited "extreme focus and persistence, nearing a level of insanity." Uchida observed and sees Ōmura's foundation as a researcher in that change of approach. "Louis Pasteur, the world-renowned microbiologist, famously expressed that 'chance favours the prepared mind'. I would like to continue my efforts with humbleness, and pioneer new fields of study", Ōmura relates. As a researcher, a professor, and a entrepreneur, Ōmura has always been consistent, never deviating from his beliefs. We have yet to witness what new developments await beyond his smile.


Picture : Shogo Takayanagi (Left) and Hiroyasu Uchida (Right). They have known Ōmura for 60 years.


Picture : Ōmura started playing golf after he became ill from over-working and, became a 5 handicap player.

Creating new sites for Learning and Art

Ōmura has long believed that art and science both play a vital role in individual and social development. With a fund that he provided in is home prefecture in Yamanashi in 1995, the Yamanashi Academy of Sciences was established to help drive forward and accelerate the ability to bring science to bear and find ways to improve all aspects of social development. From the viewpoint that a full range of ideas and technology will be needed and that all sectors of society should contribute – especially the young - he devised a series of seminars and encouraged ways and means of information exchange in elementary, middle, and high school students. Furthermore, in 2007, he invested his personal assets to establish the Nirasaki Ōmura Art Museum, which focuses on and displays art by female artists, predominantly Japanese, that he acquired through his continuing role as a leading patron of the arts in Japan.
"People create Yamanashi, and Yamanashi creates Japan. I want to dream with the children, support their dreams and help them to come true," Ōmura affirms.


Picture_1: It is Yamanashi Academy of Sciences' responsibility to provide an environment to appreciate chemistry


Picture_2: Both the Yatsugatake and Mount Fuji can be seen from Nirasaki Ōmura Art Museum


Picture_3: Taken in the "Keisetsu Dorm," which is his remodeled home. Periodically, he invites his students to come over and discuss various topics while eating and sleeping together.