Case study - Treefrog

 

TreeFrog Therapeutics is a French biotechnology company specialized in cell therapy. Founded in 2018 by biophysicist Kévin Alessandri and stem cell biologist Maxime Feyeux in Bordeaux (France), TreeFrog Therapeutics develops a breakthrough technology – C-StemTM – which allows to mass-produce stem cell-derived cell therapies. Currently advancing cell therapy programs in Parkinson’s disease, liver failure and cancer, TreeFrog Therapeutics aims at making cell therapy safer, more efficient and widely available to large patient populations.

In October 2020, TreeFrog was awarded the prestigious Galien MedStartup Prize in New York. The company is listed in the FrenchTech120, which regroups the fastest-growing startups in France. Nowadays, Treefrog brings together over 100 stem cells biologists and bioproduction engineers. Over the past 4 years, the company raised over 82 million dollars.

In April 2022, Treefrog announced the opening of a lab in Kobe, Japan, with the aim of establishing strategic alliances with key academic and industrial players in the field of regenerative medicine.

Treefrog

 

A Brief Introduction to the Technology

Building on the invention of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) by Shinya Yamanaka (2006 Nobel Prize), TreeFrog Therapeutics designed a biomimetic technology allowing for the mass-production of pluripotent stem cells, and their differentiation into any type of cell, in order to replace sick or aged cells. “Depending on the disease, a patient may require between a few hundred thousand to a few billion cells. Our goal is to meet this medical need: mass-producing billions of cells for large patient populations, with standardized quality and contained production costs.”

To do so, TreeFrog’s technology consists in encapsulating cells within microscale shells, which recapitulate their native environment and protect them from external stress. “Encapsulation is performed at very high throughput: over 1,000 capsules per second”. Cells are then expanded in large-scale bioreactors.” In In June 2021, the company announced the production of two single-batches of 15 billion iPSCs in 10L bioreactors with an unprecedented 275-fold amplification per week, striking reproducibility and best-in-class cell quality. “That’s enough raw material for 10,000 doses for our cell therapy in Parkinson’s disease” explains Pierre Gaultier.

 

Why Japan?

 “Just after TreeFrog Therapeutics was incorporated, our first business trip was to Japan. Japanese research has been pioneering the therapeutic applications of iPSCs for the past 10 years, with the launch of the world-first clinical trials using iPSC-derived products in the early 2010’s. The world’s most advanced research center in iPS research - the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA) – is actually based in Tokyo, and it was led until last year by the Nobel Prize himself. For a company like TreeFrog, which introduces a disruptive technology for iPS culture and therapeutic applications, Japan is a must.”

 

Business Strategy

TreeFrog Therapeutics identified key networks in regenerative medicine with the help of a Japanese consultant very early on. The company joined the Japanese Society for Regenerative Medicine, the Link-J consortium, and as well as the CiRA Foundation. Founders then established a scientific collaboration with Pr Shin Kawamata in Kobe. Together, they designed an international consortium with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute to evaluate the quality of the iPSCs generated with the C-StemTM technology, which was awarded by the prestigious Prix Galien MedStartup.

 

Difficulties

Treefrog did not experience difficulties in Japan. “Actually, Business France was very efficient. After the second roadshow in Japan, we already had very interesting local contacts. We were coached and introduced to the Japanese culture, and a Japanese translator facilitated our business interviews. Our biomimetic technology was well received, and of course, French wine is a powerful icebreaker!”

For more information about business culture in Japan, please visit our related page on the EUBusinessInJapan website.

 

Future Plans

“Our efforts in Japan focus on establishing strategic alliances with academic researchers and cell therapy companies for the development of therapeutic programs in regenerative medicine and immuno-oncology.” says Mr. Gaultier. "Our technological hub in Kobe will be fully operational in 2023. It will be key in showcase our technology to our Japanese partners.”

 

Advice for Other Companies

“Don’t expand to Japan on your own”, recommends Mr. Gaultier. “It is wise to ask for help. In our case, we were first supported by Business France Japan. We then hired local consultants for over a year before incorporating our Japanese subsidiary. Having a native speaker in your team is a must”

Another important piece of advice: “Take your time, setting up a business in Japan takes years. In our case, coming to Japan with a long-term strategy has been successful so far, and we are very happy with the business relationships established over the past 4 years” concludes Mr. Gaultier.

 

Text based on an interview with Mr. Pierre Gaultier, Head of Communications at Treefrog, https://treefrog.fr/

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