Japan, U.S. eye joint medical research facility in Okinawa

The Japanese government said Tuesday it is discussing with the United States setting up a research facility for new medicines in Okinawa Prefecture at a tract of land to be returned by the U.S. military in line with a base relocation plan.

Relevant government offices "have been considering in collaboration," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.

"There is a proposal that we use the land to develop new drugs based on various medical data," the top government spokesman said. "Taking into account the intentions of (the local governments of) Okinawa Prefecture and Ginowan City, we will study the possibility of the project," Suga said.

He was referring to the land currently used as the West Futenma Housing area of Camp Zukeran in Ginowan, totaling about 52 hectares, which will be returned by the end of March 2015 under a Japan-U.S. agreement.

The envisaged facility would aim to develop new medicines such as those for new strains of influenza, a government source said.

Japanese and U.S. pharmaceutical firms could be involved in operating the facility, which may specialize in regenerative medicine and make use of medical treatment records of U.S. military personnel, the source said.

The proposal is in line with the plan to relocate the U.S. Marines' Futenma Air Station from the current location in Ginowan to a less-populated area within the island prefecture.

The government is planning to finance a set of development projects in Okinawa, which has long shouldered the burden of hosting the bulk of U.S. military forces in Japan amid strong local protests and calls for sharing the burden with other prefectures.