Katsuaki Miyaji chose to work for a chemical manufacturer because he wanted to be of use to society through Chemistry, which he loves.
After working in research and development for 30 years, Miyaji is now at the helm of the company as part of the management team.
―After graduating from the Department of Chemistry, you chose to work for a chemical manufacturer. Did you choose that path because you liked Chemistry?
I’ve liked Chemistry since high school, and I wanted a job that would enable me to be of use to society through Chemistry in the future. In pursuit of that dream, I decided to study in the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, the University of Tokyo. While a student, I studied total synthesis of natural products, which involves making complex compounds that exist in nature. After looking for a company where I could apply what I learned, I joined Nissan Chemical Industries, Ltd. There I was involved with total synthesis research, which was what I wanted to do, for about 10 years.
―What is the purpose of artificially creating substances, or synthesis, that can be found in nature?
The primary aim is to make it possible to obtain a steady amount of target natural compounds. Even if natural compounds with a high potential for application to medicine and industry are discovered, no progress will be made in applied research if they can’t be obtained enough. Total synthesis is an important approach for overcoming such hurdles.
In fact, during the mid-1970s, just before I entered college, drug discovery through total synthesis of natural product drew a great deal of attention. Japanese pharmaceutical companies performed total synthesis of a highly physiologically active compound called prostaglandins, which were found inside the human body, and made the first pharmaceutical drug in the world.
My first project after joining the company was to conduct research on the total synthesis of prostaglandins--compounds many hoped could be applied to the medical field. The synthesis approach I developed then, I am happy to say, is still widely used to this day. Gradually, I began to have the desire to make the drugs themselves and put in a request to be transferred to the Pharmaceutical Research Department, which was granted.
――What type of research did you do there exactly?
I was there for about 10 years as well. My job was to search for therapeutic drugs for blood diseases. When I was involved with the development of therapeutic drugs for thrombocytopenia, I handled every steps from searching candidates to developing new products. I moved on from the department after passing the baton to my successor. When the best of products I helped develop was licensed out to a pharmaceutical company in 2007, I rejoiced with my colleagues, who had gone through thick and thin with me. In my final 10 years as a researcher, I was involved with the development of new materials and electronic materials, which I had not experienced up to that point.
――And now you are at the helm as part of the management team.
In 2016 our company’s long-term management plan, which will be implemented through 2030, went into effect. At that time, I assumed the role of Head of Corporate Planning Department, becoming the first person in our company to hold that position who had been a researcher. I would be responsible for implementing plans which I had been deeply involved in formulating
This is my first experience with corporate management, but I see some similarities with research. If research and development is monozukuri (making things), management is kotozukuri (creating value story). It involves creating developments by putting a system in place, and coming up with measures for improving the company and sending messages to society. I am taking on new challenges each and every day by utilizing my research experience so that our company, which places emphasis on research and development, is able to provide value to society and create a bright future.
――What is the attraction of the field of science?
A scientific approach, which involves a quest for the essence of things, is something that companies are in a dire need of as well. At workplaces where emphasis is placed on speed and efficiency when carrying out corporate activities, there is a tendency not to examine problems as long as results are produced. But that approach alone will lead to a dead end when a major problem arises. The scientific approach, which involves considering the causes of the phenomenon that is occurring by digging a little deeper and examining the essence of things, is indispensable not only in the field of research but in corporate activity as well. I encourage students to immerse themselves in their research and studies, cultivate the ability to think on their own, and put it into practice.
Interview and text: Masatsugu Kayahara
Photography: Junichi Kaizuka
Originally published in The School of Science Brochure 2017