The 18th Issue of “Walking Together” – Words from Mr. Mitani (English Ver.)

Mr. Hideki Mitani, the Senior Advisor at The University of Tokyo, The Institute of Medical Science & Institute of Industrial Science, contributed to the 18th issue of “Tomo ni Ayumu Kai (Walking Together),” a magazine that supports activities in Sierra Leone.

Please read his words below.

(You can download the Japanese version here: 会報18号_神谷氏寄稿
You can see the English version from here:

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Fighting Against Infectious Diseases in Africa;
a Project with The University of Tokyo, The Institute of Medical Science and their friends

Hideki Mitani

Senior Advisor to Dean & Director General
The University of Tokyo, The Institute of Medical Science & Institute of Industrial Science 

Each time when I received quarterly report of “Tomo ni Ayumu Kai (Walking together)”, I was always deeply impressed by the contents and also thank them. All people showed up in the articles, such as people in Sierra Leone, children come to school (many of them walk long distance from their homes), and supporters in Japan, were all representing the attitude Pope Francis wrote in “The Joy of the Gospel” as “taking the first step, being involved and supportive, bearing fruit and rejoicing”.

I am taking assignment at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science and the Institute of Medical Science, aiming to “find solutions for unmet needs in the world by promoting innovation”. “Fighting against infectious diseases in Africa” is one of the big themes of this assignment. No theme can be achieved by the university; if they try to do so alone. It always requires international collaboration with industry, academia, governments and donors. “Donors” means not only the people who donate treasure, but also their time and talent. Musicians donate music and attract general people’s attention and videographers donate documentary film and inform the situations by visualizing them. We are receiving those non-monetary donations. For example, the pictures on the cover page which were shot in Sierra Leone when Dr. Kawaoka’s laboratory members corrected blood samples for new vaccine development and public viewing (arranged by Mr. Tsukasa Yoshimura of SONY Corporation) were recorded by Mr. Yasuo Egashira, ex-SONY videographer.

The University of Tokyo’s Institute of Medical Science was originally established as a research organization of infectious diseases. Dr. Kawaoka is researching Ebola and Influenza. Dr. Matano is researching HIV and Dengue Fever. Dr. Kiyono is inventing “Rice Vaccine” for cholera and some others which is powder for drink which does not require refrigerator to keep it in good quality and syringe to shoot.  The Institute of Medical Science is conducting infectious disease surveillance project in Ghana in cooperation with Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Ghana who has long lasting relationship.

We work with private corporations. In order to transport vaccine and blood samples we needed refrigerators and in turn it required electric. 85% of Africa do not have enough electric or always facing power outrage.

So, in order to deal with such situation, we got help from SONY to use their new battery as experimental use. With respect to the development of “Rice Vaccine”, we are working with Astelas. Asia Pacific Alliance gave us fund to enable Sierra Leone blood sampling and public viewing project. All of our activities are supported by private corporations’, not for profit funds’ and individuals’ participation and support.

Let me talk about “innovation”. For example, Ebola is silent in human society now, but it may be mutating in monkey’s society and it will again come back to the human society in future. Dr. Kawaoka is developing new vaccine to prepare for such time. Africa is the continent HIV spreads most. There are so many different types of HIV and if the given drug works for 30% of them, the drug is regarded as very effective. Hence, we need to have many different kinds of drug. In addition, HIV is mutating and the currently available drugs’ efficacy is decreasing. Dr. Matano is confronting such situation with his colleagues in Ghana. “Rice Vaccine”, which does not need refrigerator, can be produced by container size manufacturing plant, and adding “distributed power generator”, people can make vaccine for each country’s necessity in their own country where they don’t have stable electric supply. Dr. Kiyono is challenging to develop such “mini vaccine plant” in cooperation with Asahi Kogyo and others.

My assignment is to procure funds and helpers for these projects, station in The University of Tokyo, New York Office. I started the assignment a little more than 2 years ago. Prior to picking up such assignment, I’ve been doing “for profit” investment banking business (9 years at Sumitomo Bank, 7 years at Goldman Sacks and 22 years at the firm I established in New York.) and I was considering the retirement from such business when I became 60 years old. At that time the University of Tokyo called me. In Bible, God calls us; “Don’t be afraid! Move forward. I will give you all necessary things”. I think it is true. So far, even thought I cannot do anything alone by myself, I always found helpers who joined me and helped me and advance the projects.

I would like to continue to learn from “Tomo ni Ayumu Kai’s” attitude, getting encouragement and continue our activities, keeping it down to the earth and walking step by step.

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