Helping Biotech Start-ups Accelerate Early Research Efforts

Vcreate and Weatherwax Biotechnologies win a year of access to life-science incubator in San Francisco, CA and to Astellas expertise to further their research

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TOKYO and SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 14, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Astellas Venture Management LLC (President: Kazunori Maruyama, Ph.D, “AVM”), a wholly-owned venture capital subsidiary of Astellas Pharma Inc. (TSE: 4503, President and CEO: Kenji Yasukawa, Ph.D., “Astellas”), and Mission Bay Capital BioLabs (“MBC BioLabs”), a life-science incubator, today announced Vcreate and Weatherwax Biotechnologies as the winners of the Astellas-sponsored “Future Innovator Prize” at MBC BioLabs. A Future Innovator Prize offers entrepreneurial scientists or emerging biotechnology startups one-year usage of MBC BioLabs’ state-of-the-art lab facility in San Francisco, California, as well as access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and business leaders.

Vcreate and Weatherwax Biotechnologies were chosen for the strength of the innovation in their approach, the therapeutic potential of their research and the potential expandability of their technological platforms.

“In awarding these Future Innovator Prizes, we are reinforcing Astellas’ ongoing commitment to discovering and advancing innovative science and to providing VALUE for the future benefit of patients worldwide,” said Maruyama, President, AVM. “We applaud the efforts of Vcreate and Weatherwax Biotechnologies in their advancements in oncology research and we look forward to helping them realize their potential in these underserved patient populations.”

Vcreate is a preclinical biotechnology company developing the next generation of T-cell therapies for cancers that are currently untreatable by chemotherapies, including pancreatic, colon, and lung cancers caused by KRAS mutations. The company’s screening assays and machine learning algorithms may help identify T-cell receptors that target cancer mutations 100x faster than existing methods.

“We are very pleased to be awarded an Astellas Future Innovator Prize,” said Binbin Chen, M.D., Ph.D., CEO of Vcreate. “Combining Astellas’ oncology and development expertise with MBC BioLabs’ exciting incubator space may allow us to make greater strides in the development of our algorithm and assist us in identifying targets that may help millions of people fighting these cancers.”

Weatherwax Biotechnologies is a seed-stage startup developing the next generation of induced-proximity oncology medicines. The company utilizes its OmniTAC discovery platform to investigate bifunctional drugs accessing a vastly increased mechanism of action space for the potential treatment of previously “undruggable” oncology targets.

“Gaining access to Astellas’ R&D and clinical expertise in oncology and development of oncology modalities is a fantastic opportunity, for which we are most grateful,” said Armand B. Cognetta III, PhD, Founder and CEO of Weatherwax Biotechnologies. “In conjunction with the lab space from MBC BioLabs, it will allow us to accelerate our work in finding new ways to address many difficult to treat cancers.”

“Winners of the Future Innovator Prize with Astellas really get the best of both worlds,” said Douglas Crawford, MBC BioLabs General Manager. “Not only do they get a chance to ramp up their development process with access to our world-class facilities, they also get to work with some of the brightest pharmaceutical minds in the industry at Astellas. We’re very enthusiastic about the potential these two companies have to effect real change for patients.”

Both Vcreate and Weatherwax Bio will continue their residence at MBC BioLabs with the next year sponsored by Astellas. Both will be closely supported by the team from AVM and the Astellas Biomedical Innovation Hub organizations in the San Francisco area to maximize their progress.

About the Future Innovator Prize at MBC BioLabs

Astellas is offering up to two Future Innovator Prizes for pioneering scientists with innovative research that complements Astellas’ areas of interest that fit with the Astellas Focus Area Approach and pipeline, including oncology, immunology, neuroscience including neuromuscular and sensory disorders.

Companies awarded an Astellas Future Innovator Prize will gain one year’s priority admission or renewal to MBC BioLabs’ state-of-the-art laboratory and access to Astellas’ R&D scientists and business leaders. The competition was open from September 21 to November 1, 2021. Entrepreneurial scientists, emerging life-science or biotechnology start-ups should submit their non-confidential company presentation, including a one-page executive summary, to to be considered. The decision to award any Golden Ticket and the assessments underlying such decision, are solely within the judgment of Astellas and MBC BioLabs and are not subject to any objection or appeal.

The 2020 Astellas Golden Ticket winners were Keyhole Therapeutics, Inc. and Jupiter Therapeutics, Inc. chosen for the potential of their innovations to deliver therapeutic advances for unmet medical needs and their potential synergy with Astellas’ Focus Area Approach.

For further information, please go to:, where you can also find submission guidance for your non-confidential company presentation and executive summary.

About Astellas Venture Management LLC

AVM is the wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, dedicated to supporting pre-clinical, cutting-edge science that can bring VALUE to patients. For over 15 years, AVM has provided equity investments to private, early-stage companies developing therapeutic programs and platform technologies, helping them to advance their innovations faster. AVM is a strategic investor, making investments in science that will enhance the current Astellas R&D pipeline or that could catalyze new directions in discovery research. For more information, please visit our website at

About Astellas

Astellas Pharma Inc. is a pharmaceutical company conducting business in more than 70 countries around the world. Our strategy is based on a Focus Area Approach that is designed to identify opportunities for the continuous creation of new drugs to address diseases of high unmet medical needs by focusing on the intersections of Biology with appropriate Modality. Furthermore, we are also looking beyond our foundational Rx focus to create Rx+® healthcare solutions that combine our expertise and knowledge with cutting-edge technology from different fields. Through these efforts, Astellas stands on the forefront of healthcare change to turn innovative science into value for patients. For more information, please visit our website at

About MBC BioLabs

MBC BioLabs is dedicated to helping life-science startups succeed. By renting space as small as a single bench and providing these entrepreneurial scientists with access to millions of dollars of equipment, we allow companies to be fast, focused, and frugal. We now have three sites: one in the Dogpatch neighborhood in San Francisco and two campuses in San Carlos. Each site has a complete molecular biology core facility that allows companies to do experiments on day one, not year one. We have partnerships with leading pharmaceutical and life-science companies as well as a built-in venture capital firm, Mission BioCapital. These partnerships provide our entrepreneurs with valuable insights about where to focus their efforts and accelerates the innovation pipeline. Our labs have truly enabled awesome: since our opening in 2013 we have helped launch and grow 230 companies. These companies have brought 54 programs to the clinic, produced 13 approved diagnostics, and raised over $10 billion!

Cautionary Notes

In this press release, statements made with respect to current plans, estimates, strategies and beliefs and other statements that are not historical facts are forward-looking statements about the future performance of Astellas. These statements are based on management’s current assumptions and beliefs in light of the information currently available to it and involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties. A number of factors could cause actual results to differ materially from those discussed in the forward-looking statements. Such factors include, but are not limited to: (i) changes in general economic conditions and in laws and regulations, relating to pharmaceutical markets, (ii) currency exchange rate fluctuations, (iii) delays in new product launches, (iv) the inability of Astellas to market existing and new products effectively, (v) the inability of Astellas to continue to effectively research and develop products accepted by customers in highly competitive markets, and (vi) infringements of Astellas’ intellectual property rights by third parties.

Information about pharmaceutical products (including products currently in development) which is included in this press release is not intended to constitute an advertisement or medical advice.

SOURCE Astellas Pharma Inc.