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CHIBA -- Major soy sauce maker Yamasa Corp. is helping global pharmaceutical giants create COVID-19 vaccines by providing them with pseudouridine, a nucleoside variant necessary for the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines.
While pseudouridine is not included in the company's main products such as soy sauce or noodle broth, it's offered the nucleotide in its medical and chemical businesses which apparently started out as research on "umami." The firm is determined to continue contributing to the medical field, with a representative saying, "Not just for (combatting) the coronavirus, but we want to produce and offer ingredients for medications."
Yamasa, based in the coastal city of Choshi in east Japan's Chiba Prefecture, was founded in 1645. The soy sauce maker started research on umami, savoriness that makes up one of the five basic tastes, in the 1950s. It found that substances created in the process of the research could be turned into products for medical use. This has allowed the company to advance into medical and chemical businesses, which accounts for about 10% of Yamasa's sales today.
One of the chemical compounds the company has been producing is pseudouridine. Since the 1980s, Yamasa has sold the nucleoside to universities and pharmaceutical manufacturers as a test reagent for research purposes. Today, it's used for an ingredient to create mRNA molecules, a vital component for Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. vaccines against coronavirus infections.
It used to be thought that mRNA was difficult to use in vaccines and other drugs as the human body would consider the molecule as a foreign object when injected. However, in 2005, Hungarian biochemist Katalin Kariko and other scientists published a study in which they claimed if an mRNA component is replaced with pseudouridine, the body would not recognize it as a foreign object, meaning it was less likely to cause inflammatory reactions. This has paved a way for the practical use of pseudouridine.
According to Yamasa, there's only a few companies worldwide that are capable of mass producing high-quality pseudouridine. The soy sauce maker improved its manufacturing capabilities around fall 2020 and started exporting its pseudouridine product. Koji Amari, deputy director at Yamasa's Biochemicals Division, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We're focusing our efforts on what's right in front of us to provide pseudouridine. We'd be happy if we could contribute (to vaccine production)."
(Japanese original by Tatsuya Naganuma, Chiba Bureau)
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