We recognize that in order for the Yakult Group to continue growing sustainably, we need to not only further promote product development through the pursuit of excellence in life science but also create services that provide new value. Yakult 1000 (launched in 2021) and Y1000 (launched in 2021) are drinks that help resolve stress-related issues in contemporary society and have become hit products. While bearing in mind the views of our stakeholders, we will continue to further develop our organizations and create frameworks to generate innovations that will help resolve social issues and bring about our evolution toward a healthcare company.
Message from the chief officer
Director and Senior Managing Executive Officer
Divisional General Manager of Research & Development Division
Founded on innovation
Yakult’s founder, Minoru Shirota began his medical studies in 1921. Japan was still a poor country at the time, and unsanitary conditions caused large numbers of children to die of infectious diseases. Concerned about these conditions, he set his sights on the field of preventive medicine, which aims to help people avoid sickness rather than treating diseases after they occur, and started down the path of microorganism research. His insights, coming at a time when curative care was mainstream in Japan, represented an innovation.
While people commonly take lactic acid bacteria today in the form of probiotic drinks, there could not have been many who pursued—or even conceived of—such habits a century ago in Japan. Dr. Shirota’s research led to the culturing of Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota*1 ,which he and those sharing his vision developed into an inexpensive, delicious drink called Yakult so that many people could benefit from it.
The system of home delivery by homemakers was launched in 1963, when women’s workforce participation was still low. It is widely known today as the Yakult Lady system, but this, too, was an innovation. It was a novel way of not only delivering Yakult drinks but also providing various services and personal attention for customers in markets that now encompass 40 countries and regions, including Japan.
Evolving with the times
Innovation at Yakult began with preventive medicine, as noted above. Subsequent research has revealed that continued intake of Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota can inhibit the recurrence of superficial bladder cancer*2 and increase the activity of natural killer (NK) cells*3—an indicator of immune functions. These findings on the potential of lactic acid bacteria also constitute major innovations.
The immense popularity of our Yakult 1000 and Y1000 drinks is also due, we believe, to our efforts to provide new value by addressing issues involving stress and sleep, which have recently emerged as serious health concerns.
Creating value by building affinity
The value people seek changes with the times, so being able to create and deliver such value requires that we have a good grasp of what people want and how we can meet their wishes. We also need to see things from everyone’s perspectives. Yakult was launched out of Dr. Shirota’s desire to contribute to the health of as many people as possible. We have thus always had people’s well-being at heart, and we will continue to create value that leads to people’s happiness.
*1 Reclassified as Lacticaseibacillus paracasei strain Shirota in April 2020.
Managing Executive Officer
Divisional General Manager of Pharmaceutical Business Division
Pharmaceuticals derived from Lactobacillus research
Yakult’s pharmaceutical research began in 1978 when we discovered that our proprietary Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota had anticancer properties via an immunostimulatory effect. This led to the start of development research of anticancer agents, with our pharmaceutical research being advanced in tandem with our preventive medicine initiatives.
One result has been the development of chemotherapeutic agents widely used in Japan and overseas, such as plant-based Campto (irinotecan hydrochloride) injection and Elplat (oxaliplatin).
We are committed to contributing to the health of people around the world. Based on our proprietary research on intestinal bacteria, we have been developing high-value-added products that utilize the microbiome (bacterial flora) with a desire to contribute as much as possible in the fields of medicine and pharmaceuticals.
We will continue to apply the knowledge and technology we have cultivated in the pharmaceutical business to preventive and curative medicine, striving to achieve new innovations that contribute to Yakult’s development and people’s health.
Contributing solutions to social issues
Mental healthcare is nowadays considered important in our stressful modern society. In light of this, studies have shown that intestinal bacteria are deeply involved in the gut-brain axis, the interaction between the gastrointestinal tract and brain (microbiota-gut-brain axis). We further advanced our research on Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota’s action to improve the intestinal environment and went on to verify its functionality via the gut-brain axis. In human studies, we were able to demonstrate the effect of the continuous ingestion of Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota in relieving stress and improving sleep quality. We applied these research findings in the development of food products with this functionality and marketed as Foods with Function Claims.
Advancing bacteriology research for human health
The pillar of our activities at the Yakult Central Institute is research into intestinal microbiota and probiotics*1 from the perspective of preventive medicine. We are studying the difference between the intestinal microbiota of people in different countries and determining the relationship between the intestinal microbiota and disease in an effort to contribute to better health. For example, our research confirmed that regular consumption of beverages containing Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota*2 helps relieve stress and improve sleep quality for people under temporary mental stress. These findings led to the launching of the fermented milk drink Yakult 1000, which contains 100 billion Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota per 100 ml bottle. And in 2021, we launched Y1000 for in-store sales.
*1 Defined by the FAO/WHO in 2002 as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”
*2 Reclassified as Lacticaseibacillus paracasei strain Shirota in April 2020
Intestinal flora analysis system
Collection of microorganisms such as
lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria
Engaging in joint research with outside research institutions
Joint research with JAXA
In joint research with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) we have scientifically verified the effects of the regular intake of probiotics (Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota) on the immune functions and intestinal environment of astronauts on long-term stays aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Before carrying out this research in space, we confirmed that Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota maintains its probiotic properties after long-term storage in a space environment.
Joint research with the Osaka International Cancer Institute
An intervention trial conducted in collaboration with the Osaka International Cancer Institute confirmed that consumption of synbiotics (Lacticaseibacillus paracasei strain Shirota, Bifidobacterium breve strain Yakult and galactooligosaccharides) improved the intestinal microbiota of esophageal cancer patients undergoing preoperative chemotherapy and reduced adverse events during chemotherapy. The results were reported in the journal Clinical Nutrition (published on April 1, 2022).