#Asia #Japan How this silkworm startup is taking on the pandemic


Bio-tech is messy because life is complicated.

A lot of attention is given to computers sequencing genomes, but some of the most advanced and important work is done by studying and using other living things to make our own lives better.

Kenta Yamato co-founded Kaico to commercialize a technique that uses silkworms to manufacture small-batch custom proteins. And Kico is involved with everything from veterinary medicine to Japan’s search for a coronavirus vaccine.

We also talk about the challenges or creating startups based on university technology and the one e-commerce model in Japan that just won’t go away.

I think you’ll enjoy the conversation.

Show Notes

How to get proteins from a silkworm (It’s not fun for the silkworm)
Why silkworms, in particular, must be used
The importance and uses of small-batch, custom proteins
The start of a silkworm startup
The most common (and least successful) Japanese e-commerce model
Why it’s so hard for Japanese universities to spin-out startups
How Kaico silkworms are part of the fight against covid-19
How to scale a silkworm startup

Links from the Founder

Everything you ever wanted to know about Kaico
Friend Kenta on Facebook
Connect with him on LinkedIn
A Kaico video explainer

Leave a comment
Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.
Today, we’re going to be talking about worms. No, no, wait, don’t go, I promise this is going to be really interesting.
Today, we’re going to sit down and talk with Kenta Yamato of Kaico, a Kyushu-based startup that is using silkworms to rapidly produce custom small-batch innovative proteins that are used for bio-research, medicine, and they play a part in Japan’s search for coronavirus vaccine. It’s a fascinating process but admittedly one that’s not particularly fun for the silkworms themselves.
We also talk about the most popular and most unsuccessful e-commerce business model in Japan, the challenges Japanese universities in spinning out startups, and we even cover some practical solutions to that problem. But you know, Kenta tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview.

Tim: So I’m sitting here with Kenta Yamato of Kaico, a company that uses silkworm to produce specific protein used in medical tests and vaccine, and thank you for sitting down with me.
Kenta: Yes, thank you for me and I have a very pleasure to explain our company’s story. Yeah, thank you very much.
Tim: It’s great to have you on the show. I tried to explain very briefly what Kaico does, but I think you can explain it a lot better than I can, so at like a high level, what does Kaico do?
Kenta: We started Kaico two years ago in 2018. Kaiko means silkworm in English. Maybe you know silkworm can make silk for clothes, but we will use this kaiko silkworm for making proteins. We are a startup company from Kyushu University and our products are many proteins, the protein the other companies cannot make because it is difficult to make it. We make this protein by silkworm.
Tim: So if I understand the basic process, you inject the silkworm with a virus containing the target gene, and then it makes the proteins as part of its silk, and then you extract the proteins from the silk?
Kenta: No, no. First, we’ll incorporate the gene of target protein into baculovirus, so this baculovirus is safe for us humans and animals, but baculovirus damage to only silkworms and we will insert this recombinant baculovirus into silkworm and their body can make the specific protein in their cell, and finally, we’ll collect and purify the body liquid from the silkworm.
Tim: Okay, so it’s not from the silk, it’s from the silkworms themselves that you extract the proteins.
Kenta: Yes, we don’t use silk.
Tim: Okay. So why silkworm? Is there something about silkworms that makes it easy to generate protein…

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