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Antibody masks using ostrich eggs become Kyoto town 'hometown tax' return gift

Seika Town Mayor Masami Sugiura, right, and Yasuhiro Tsukamoto, president of Ostrich Pharma KK and Kyoto Prefectural University, are seen holding the "ostrich antibody masks" added to the returned gifts for "hometown tax" donations, at the Seika Municipal Government building on Aug. 26, 2021. (Mainichi/Kentaro Suzuki)

SEIKA, Kyoto -- Highly functional antibody masks using properties from ostrich eggs and developed by a Kyoto Prefectural University company have been added to this western Japan town's list of eligible "hometown tax" donation gifts.

    The masks include a filter containing antibodies to prevent infection from viruses including the coronavirus. The Seika Municipal Government is hoping locally produced anti-coronavirus products will make the town known across the country amid the pandemic.

    Yasuhiro Tsukamoto, president of venture firm Ostrich Pharma KK and Kyoto Prefectural University, specializes in infectious diseases and has been focusing on ostriches' ability to internally produce antibodies.

    By administering some of the virus's proteins to ostriches, researchers successfully extracted many antibodies from the eggs they laid. In 2008, they developed a mask that can trap highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses with an "ostrich antibodies" filter, which prevents infection and viral reproduction. In the same year, they established a company in the town's Keihanna Science City and began the masks' commercial sale.

    The method has since been used to improve the masks' function by adding antibodies against new strains of influenza, hay fever and other pathogens.

    In 2020, the company extracted coronavirus antibodies based on spike proteins, and added them to its functions. The firm has now relocated to the prefectural university's Seika campus, where antibodies are produced before being processed into masks by a bio-products firm in Fukuoka Prefecture. Its masks are mainly sold through its online store to the medical field, but with the spread of infections, retail purchases are also increasing.

    The town signed a comprehensive cooperation agreement with the prefectural university in 2013. In response to an offer from Tsukamoto, the town government decided to make it a return gift. Three sizes are available: regular, S, and SS. Home tax donations of 17,000 yen (about $155) or more can receive a set of 25 masks of any size, with two sets for gifts of 33,000 yen (around $300) or more.

    From September the town will add Ostrich Pharma-developed antibody-containing candies to the list of returned gifts. "We would like to return the favor to Seika, the site of our research and development," Tsukamoto said.

    Seika Mayor Masami Sugiura hopes the masks will make Seika and Keihanna Science City better known, thereby further encouraging local research into life-saving products.

    (Japanese original by Kentaro Suzuki, Gakken Uji Local Bureau)

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