Photo/IllutrationThe head office of Toshiba Corp. in Tokyo's Minato Ward (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Toshiba Corp. plans to collect genetic data from 10,000 of its Japanese employees to develop a new business model based on gene-analysis technology specifically tailored to Japanese people.

The company has asked about 80,000 employees for their consent to let it access their genetic information.

“The ultimate goal is to be able to propose therapies and diets suitable to each individual, covering all Japanese,” said Minoru Yonezawa, senior manager of Toshiba’s New Business Development Office.

After an accounting scandal and a huge loss in its nuclear plant business, Toshiba must develop a new pillar business as quickly as possible.

The firm, which has sold its core semiconductor chip and health-care departments, sees its precision medical services, including the Japonica Array genotyping tool, as its “new high-growth sector” for fiscal 2024 and beyond.

Genetic data from hundreds of thousands of individuals is estimated to be needed to commercialize the new service using Japonica Array, which Toshiba created with Tohoku University.

As the first step toward that, Toshiba decided to ask Toshiba Group staff to join its genetic data gathering plan.

The human genome is estimated to have about 3 billion base pairs. By analyzing only 660,000 of them unique to Japanese, Toshiba's system eliminates the need to rely on conventionally used high-performance equipment, leading to quicker, cheaper analysis of patients’ genes, the company said.

Analyzing a person’s genetic data typically takes about six weeks and costs 500,000 yen ($4,700) but this will be slashed to one month and 20,000 yen, according to Toshiba officials.

Anticipating that its gene analysis technique will be used in medical, food, insurance and other relevant fields, Toshiba is weighing capital and business tie-ups with other companies.

In preparation for collecting the genetic data, Toshiba sent briefing materials to the computers of all 80,000 eligible workers in May and asked employees to sign an agreement to participate in the genetic data gathering plan.

In July, Toshiba started contacting employees who had given their consent to take part in the plan. The employees will provide samples of their blood for free that were collected during health checkups they underwent between July and August, along with the results of those checkups.

Toshiba will create an in-house genetic database after analyzing the materials it collected.

Since genetic data is considered as a piece of one's “ultimate personal information,” Toshiba faces challenges to solve security and ethical concerns over how the data will be handled.

The company's in-house ethics committee is discussing how to safeguard the data.