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Case study - Novaptech

Introduction  

Novaptech, a French biotech SME, specializes in the development of aptamer-based tools and devices for applications across health, agri-food, and environmental sectors. Aptamers are artificially synthesized short sequences of DNA, RNA, or XNA designed to bind selectively to a specific target molecule or a family of target molecules. 

In addition to its core operations, Novaptech actively engages in collaborative projects and service agreements with academic institutions and research and development (R&D) companies globally. The company is a spin off from an academic laboratory of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) U1212 at the University of Bordeaux.   

Jean-Jacques Toulmé, a co-founder and the Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) of Novaptech, also served as a Director of Research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm). With a distinguished career spanning more than 25 years, his expertise in aptamer research significantly enriches Novaptech's scientific foundation. Marine Faussillon-Laville, co-founder and CEO of Novaptech, complements the company's leadership with her background in Molecular Genetics, holding a Ph.D. in this discipline. Additionally, she has been working in roles such as R&D project manager, medical science liaison and regional sales Director in biotech and pharmaceutical companies. 

  

Why Japan? 

Novaptech sees Japan as a promising market for two primary reasons.  

Firstly, the global landscape for de-novo aptamer development is limited, with only 20-25 companies worldwide possessing the necessary expertise, which are predominantly located in the United States.  
Japanese firms focus on developing aptamers for therapeutic uses, leaving a gap in the diagnostic and analytical applications—a niche Novaptech is well-equipped to fill. 

Secondly, the strategy extends beyond commercial transactions to include fostering innovation partnerships with Japanese enterprises. 

  

EU-Japan Centre Support 

The EU-Japan Centre recognized Novaptech's potential by selecting the company for the 2019 BIOTECH mission. The Centre provided an exhibition booth and translation services, enhancing Novaptech’s ability to connect and meet companies at BioJapan Expo.  

Among several potential partners met at the fair, Novaptech discussed with a Japanese biotech company with which it signed a contract to develop an aptamer. 

In 2021, Novaptech's continued excellence secured its participation in the BIOTECH mission once again.   

The same year, the Bordeaux-based company also became a member of the EU-Japan Business Round Table (BRT). The BRT was established to foster dialogue between the business communities of both regions, and it provides a platform for business leaders to discuss issues and challenges affecting trade and investment flows between the EU and Japan. 

  

Challenges and competition in the Japanese Market 

Accessing the Japanese market presents notable challenges. Establishing partnerships requires time due to the thorough due diligence conducted by Japanese companies. Being considered a reliable partner is fundamental.  

Language barriers and a preference for domestic partnerships further complicate entry for foreign companies lacking a local presence. 

The therapeutic focus of Japanese companies in the aptamer field creates an opportunity rather than direct competition for Novaptech, which focuses also on diagnostic and analytical solutions.  

 

Advice for European companies that want to break into the Japanese market 

“Be patient”: this is the key advice that Novaptech’s founders give to aspiring companies. Patience is crucial to thrive in Japan. 

Additionally, a deep understanding of Japanese culture and business etiquette can significantly help in navigating this market.  

Dr. Faussillon-Laville, who took part in the Biotech business missions, highlighted how participation in EU-Japan Centre’s webinars and other educational resources helped her to better understand cultural and business practices. 

 

Article based on an interview with Dr. Marine Faussillon-Laville, CEO and co-founder, and Dr. Jean-Jacques Toulmé, CSO and co-founder. 

Published on April 2024.

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