Are the Japanese healthcare majors emerging as serious competitors to the largest North American and European pharmaceutical companies for the most partners for fast growing biotechnology companies? Japan’s largest pharmaceutical company, Takeda Pharmaceutical, the sixteenth largest pharmaceutical company in the world, certainly believes so.
Over the past two years Takeda has moved away from its previous strategy of focusing on partnering with smaller Japanese companies towards alliances with international partners to boost its development pipeline.
International alliances are seen as particularly important at a time when two of the company’s most important drugs are coming off patent. Takeda’s gastrointestinal drug lansoprazole came off patent at the USPTO in February 2007, and its USPTO patent for pioglitazone, used for the treatment of diabetes type II, is due to expire in 2011.
Takeda has not been able to fill the pipeline with drugs from other Japanese companies and so it is now forced to focus on alliances, partnerships and acquisitions outside Japan. In order to make it a more attractive partner Takeda has established a streamlined decision making process and a Global Licensing and Business Development Department that reports directly to the company’s President. Takeda now has alliance specialists in all the three key geographical regions: Japan, North American and Europe.
The volume of deals signed by Takeda over the past three years has been impressive. The company has signed a number of cancer-based alliances. For example, in late 2004 it signed a deal with BioNumerik Pharmaceuticals around the chemotherapeutic agent Tavocept. As part of the deal Takeda made a $52 million equity investment in BioNumerick. Takeda signed a three year alliance in April 2006 with Arius Research Inc to research antibodies for anti-cancer treatments and in July 2006 it signed a four year development and marketing agreement with Galaxy Biotech for a humanized anti-Hepatocyte Growth Factor monoclonal antibody.
Takeda has signed a number of deals in the CNS area including a co-development and co-promotion with H. Lundbeck A/S signed in September 2007 for compounds for the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders. Takeda made an upfront payment of $40 million to Lundbeck and will pay up to $345 million in milestone payments over the life of the partnership.
In the field of cardiovascular diseases Takeda has entered alliances aimed at several disease targets. In November 2006 it signed a deal worth up to $230 million with Xoma Ltd to jointly discover, develop and produce therapeutic monoclonal antibodies. In June 2007 it signed a three target agreement with Archemix Corporation focusing on the discovery, development and commercialization of aptamer-based therapeutics.
As well as signing co-development licenses Takeda has in-licensed a number of compounds from companies ranging from Merck KGaA through to Santhera Pharmaceuticals and Sucampo Pharmaceuticals.
In addition to partnerships Takeda is exploring equity based and risk finance driven relationships. A venture capital subsidiary, Takeda Research Investment, was set up in 2002 located in Palo Alto and tasked with looking for cardiovascular, cancer, urological, central nervous system and gastrointestinal research collaborations.
So far, TRI has invested in seven companies. Investments have included Serenex, a chemoproteomics-oriented drug discovery company focused on the discovery and development of novel therapeutics targeting cancer, and Receptor Biologix, a biotechnology company founded on the discovery of a new class of endogenous regulatory proteins.
Can Takeda succeed in its strategy? Maybe. It has a number of factors going for it. Access to the wealthy, rapidly aging Japanese market and Asian markets is a big selling point for companies interested in age-related conditions. Takeda also has a lot of cash to invest. With $16 billion in cash and short term investments, Takeda’s investment capacity is not significantly less than Pfizer’s, which has $22.75 billion in cash. Finally but, possibly most crucially, biotechnology investors fed up with quarterly results driven decision-making, may see real advantages in having a partner with the long-term perspective that Japanese companies famously bring to investments. Together these factors could be a winning combination in the battle for the partnerships that are going to shape the future of the pharmaceutical industry.