Keiji Nagano, Chairman, and Executive Director of 3-D Matrix Limited shares, “This breakthrough material was originally used for tissue regeneration purposes and has now brought about many applications, contributing to the development of novel medical devices.”

November 27, 2022

Keiji Nagano: Pushing the Boundaries of Biotech  

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We live in a world that is undoubtedly obsessed with technology. From our homes to places of work, hospitals, learning institutions, and others, technology is evolving at breakneck speeds. In the field of medicine, the use of modern technology performs a pivotal role in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management of diseases.

While medical technology has evolved leaps over the years, in more recent times a staggering discovery has contributed to propelling modern medicine to unparalleled heights – Self-assembling peptide (SAP) technology. Keiji Nagano, Chairman, and Executive Director of 3-D Matrix Limited shares, “This breakthrough material was originally used for tissue regeneration purposes and has now brought about many applications, contributing to the development of novel medical devices.

Working with healthcare professionals across a wide range of medical specialties, under the leadership of Keiji Nagano, 3-D Matrix is on the mission to develop the most innovative healthcare treatments that improve patient outcomes using their self-assembling peptide technology.

A Revolutionary Medical Discovery

In the early 90s, MIT post-doctoral researcher Shuguang Zhang observed an unusual repeating peptide sequence, whilst studying the peptide Zuotin, which binds to Z-DNA. This unusual repeating sequence led to the discovery of self-assembling peptides. Peptides, a short chain of amino acids help build muscle, boost weight, enable fat loss, and help with muscle recovery making self-assembling peptides a revolutionary discovery for the medical field.

To further the research and development of self-assembling peptides, in 2001 3-D Matrix Inc, was established in Boston MA, by Scientific Founders at MIT. This facility was established with the aim of advancing the ambitious development program – PuraStat. In 2004, Keiji founded 3-D Matrix Limited in Japan, after receiving its license from 3-D Matrix Inc. Thereafter, research collaborations with 3rd party institutions ensued, and newer applications were identified.

Since then, 3-D Matrix has grown to become a leading global peptide solutions company. Headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, and with offices serving the Americas, Europe, and Asia the company, with its partners and distributor serves research scientists, healthcare providers, and patients all around the globe.

“Our products are created with healthcare professionals in mind,” states Keiji. “They are ready-to-use and easily applicable during surgeries/procedures, especially when time is of the essence.” While the flexible SAP gel is chemically inert, making it safe to use on patients, it provides a great adjunct to other modalities also. Its versatile use can be seen within the Cardiac, GI, and Ears, Nose, and Throat (ENT) clinical areas, with potential applications in drug delivery systems, regenerative medicine, and others. 

The Visionary

Before 3-D Matrix, Keiji held multi-faceted roles throughout his career. After working at the Exxon Mobil Corporation and then Bain & Company, Nagano founded New Media Japan Inc. in 2000 as a director.

While he was serving as vice-president of the Tokyo office of Bain & Co., Keiji also played a key role as the director of the South Korea office, establishing it from the ground up. He led projects with clients in various lines of businesses and gained wide experience in communications, high technology, entertainment, and the healthcare businesses at Bain & Co.

Additionally, he also supported foreign capital companies to launch businesses in Japan and carried them towards success by understanding them at the operational level. Eventually though, Keiji found himself drawn toward the fast-evolving and innovative world of biotech. He says, “I wanted to seek the excitement of diving into cutting-edge scientific innovation by running a biotech start-up. The most motivating aspect of the company is being able to meet and discuss with super smart scientists including a Nobel prize winner.

Talking about expanding 3-D Matrix from a Japanese start-up to a multinational organization, Nagano says that the paramount thing is to have a distant vision and never lose focus of it. “Trying to see what others don’t see or cannot see is the source of value you can create. To do so, you need to consciously keep yourself disciplined however busy you are.”

In the organization, Nagano stays involved in every business function possible. Fuelled by a curious mind he likes to be on top of all business communications and operations, “not only from direct reports but also in activities involving individuals in our global offices.” It is this detailed and daily communication that gives Keiji valuable insight and reinforces his critical decision-making skills.

Breaking Boundaries & Having Fun

For Keiji, life has always been about creating his own path. “My own rules and criteria have influenced me to think beyond the norm,” he smiles. When he graduated from the University of Tokyo, the popular and stable career choice was joining a Japanese traditional blue-chip company. Keiji joined Exxon Mobil instead. Later on, after completing his MBA from Columbia University, he chose to pursue management consulting instead of the lucrative investment banking field.

Finally, when it came to starting his own start-up, despite initially getting into the information technology field, he decided that he preferred exploring biotech instead. “After seven years of experience as a partner at Bain & Co., I started to feel the need to challenge the peak, this time to build an organization without any hierarchical structure,” says Nagano.

Reflecting on his journey with 3-D Matrix, Keiji feels humbled by the success his organization has achieved in such a short period. Despite the success, he always remembers the struggles and hardships that he had to face during the company’s initial days. Experience taught him that one of the fundamental principles of running a start-up is to understand that not everything will go as per plan. He says, when required, company leaders must reach out to other established industry leaders and seek their advice and support. “On top of that, it is critical to have Plan B / C in any situation,” declares Nagano.

In his free time, Keiji enjoys a round of golf or a game of tennis. He also looks forward to catching up with his friends over a drink. He says, “When I was working for Bain, I could not spare my time a lot to my family, but now, fortunately, I have a much better work-life balance.”

Progressive Culture

Today, Keiji feels proud to not just have expanded his company to different parts of the globe, but also to get the opportunity to nurture and work with some of the most top-notch talent in the country. He goes out of his way to create opportunities for his team, promoting their growth and development along with the company.

“I believe we don’t all have to be super talented, but I would like to make sure that we, as a team, can perform better than the other companies,” states Nagano. “My greatest achievement might be the fact that I managed to establish a great team that understands the importance of regular collaboration with external experts. I believe this is the source of value we have created.”

Within the company, Keiji promotes a culture of openness and transparency. He feels glad about the fact that his organization is considered one of the best places to work at. In fact, a lot of people who leave the organization often find their way right back, where they are again welcomed with open arms. 

Creating the Next Leaders

At present, apart from further expanding the global footprint of 3-D Matrix, Keiji is focused on creating avenues to empower the next generation of Japanese leaders. Through apprenticeships and strategic assignments, Nagano is committed to identifying like-minded individuals, whom he believes will propel more Japanese businesses on the global platform.

A thinker, a visionary, and a revered global figurehead, Keiji concludes by sharing “I often observe “Kindergarten football syndrome” here and there. When kindergarten children play football, the children tend to all gather around the same ball. This quite resembles what we see in our business circumstances. Once a topic/business model attracts attention, most of all people are absorbed into the concept. However, if you want to be a good player, you need to be at a place where it is the best to lead the game.”


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