Value for Patients – Turning Advances in Science: A Case Study of a Leading Global Pharmaceutical Company – Astellas Pharma Inc.
UPDATED on 8/24/2016
Some analysts suggested Pfizer paid too much, particularly since it will split profits from Xtandi with Japan-based Astellas Pharma, which helps market the drug. Pfizer defended the deal, saying it would add 5 cents to its earnings per share in the first full year.
“The proposed acquisition of Medivation is expected to immediately accelerate revenue growth and drive overall earnings growth potential for Pfizer,” Ian Read, chairman and chief executive of Pfizer, said in the statement on Monday.
Author: Gail S. Thornton, M.A.
Co-Editor: The VOICES of Patients, HealthCare Providers, Caregivers and Families: Personal Experience with Critical Care and Invasive Medical Procedures https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/biomed-e-books/series-e-titles-in-the-strategic-plan-for-2014-1015/2014-the-patients-voice-personal-experience-with-invasive-medical-procedures/
Tokyo-based Astellas Pharma Inc., a top 20 global pharmaceutical research company, has a strong, global company legacy, precision focus and patient-centric vision in creating innovative pharmaceuticals in areas of unmet medical need.
Image SOURCE: Photograph of the Astellas Pharma U.S. building. Courtesy of Astellas Pharma U.S., 5/10/2012.
The company’s commitment to science is based on development of medicines that address high unmet medical needs in therapeutic areas that include:
- nephrology, and
The company is also exploring advancements in new therapeutic areas and related diseases such as,
- ophthalmology—retinitis pigmentosa (RP), age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic macular edema (DME) and Stargardt’s macular degeneration (SMD) and
- muscle diseases.
And they are investing in new technologies and modalities, such as,
- regenerative medicine and cell therapy, and
- next-generation vaccines.
The company is committed to improving the lives of patients through innovative science and with the highest sense of ethics and integrity. This commitment is reflected in the Astellas Group Code of Conduct, which applies to all employees across the globe and can be accessed through the link below.
Boosting research and development productivity remains an important issue for Astellas Pharma Inc., because innovation is vital for the company’s success in developing new therapeutic areas, technologies and modalities of treatment.
Dr. Bernhardt Zeiher, President, Development, is responsible for the more than 800-person development organization that is involved in developing these innovative therapies through cutting-edge clinical research. Dr. Zeiher’s team conducts clinical investigations of novel biological targets and new chemical entities with unique mechanisms of action and looks to determine whether the findings in preclinical testing will translate to benefit for patients. Clinical studies are conducted globally with operational hubs in the United States, Netherlands and Japan. Astellas relocated their Development headquarters from Japan to the United States in 2008.
Building on its 120-year heritage, Astellas uses creativity and innovation to bring patients new medicines through the more than 17,000 global employees who work to improve the lives of patients and their families. Astellas was formed through the merger of Japan’s third and fifth largest pharmaceutical companies, Yamanouchi, founded in 1923, and Fujisawa, founded in 1894. Yamanouchi brought a record of developing blockbuster drugs, a pipeline full of promising new compounds and a sales and marketing culture of deeply grounded, data-driven expertise. Fujisawa brought dominance in transplantation, a soaring reputation for in-depth understanding of the disease states and treatments within its market niches, and a track record for developing high-profile, market-leading products that become new standards of care.
The company has made steady progress; they reported annual global sales of 1,372,706 million yen (approx. $13.2 billion) through the end of fiscal year 2015, with an annual research and development investment of 225,665 million yen (approx. $2.2 billion) through the end of fiscal year 2015.
Below is my interview with Astellas Dr. Bernhardt Zeiher, President, Development, which occurred in June, 2016.
What is your overall Research & Development (R&D) strategy?
Dr. Zeiher: We are focused on turning innovative science into value for patients in areas of high unmet need where we have, or can quickly acquire, expertise and where Astellas believes new scientific understanding is poised to drive significant innovation. Our commitment to R&D is based on the development of medicines that address high unmet medical needs in our main therapeutic areas of focus: oncology, urology and immunology. We also have increased efforts to explore advancements in new therapeutic areas such as ophthalmology, nephrology, neuroscience and muscle diseases where there is a high level of unmet medical need. Building on our patient-centric vision, Astellas has been actively investing in new technologies and modalities, such as regenerative medicine and next-generation vaccines.
What are your R&D strengths?
Dr. Zeiher: Astellas is building on its legacy of bringing transformative medications to patients by investing in some of today’s most dynamic areas of scientific exploration. Innovations delivered by Astellas have helped to address and largely solve some of the most significant scientific challenges in urology and transplant. We also have built a strong presence in oncology with treatments for difficult-to-treat cancers, such as prostate and non-small cell lung cancer.
Moving forward in oncology, Astellas has made a deliberate effort to build leadership through organic efforts with a pipeline exemplifying the “follow the biology” approach that includes treatments for prostate, non-small cell lung and pancreatic cancer, and continued research in therapies for breast cancer and acute myeloid leukemia, among others. We also have forged strategic acquisitions and collaborated with industry and academic leaders to further build our portfolio.
In addition, we are leveraging what we know across conditions with similar biologies or mechanisms, building on our expertise to expand into adjacent diseases and proactively seek new opportunities. For example, leveraging our expertise in transplantation and infectious diseases, Astellas is developing the world’s first DNA vaccine for cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections. Currently in clinical trials, ASP0113 is a potential first-in-class agent for immunocompromised individuals undergoing solid organ or hematopoietic stem cell transplant who are at high risk of viral reactivation.
Describe your near-term R&D projects and pipeline activities?
Dr. Zeiher: Currently, the company is working on 35 investigational programs in Phase II and Phase III/registration development, of which half involve new molecular entities. We have a diverse pipeline with a balance of early- and later-stage assets. Later-stage programs include novel therapies/vaccines for cancer, anemia and infectious diseases.
- Our two most advanced novel oncology agents, ASP2215 and ASP8273, continue to progress through the pipeline. ASP2215 shows promise in the treatment of relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia, and ASP8273 is being evaluated as a treatment for a type of non-small cell lung cancer.
- Leveraging our expertise in kidney disease, we are developing a first-in-class oral treatment for anemia associated with chronic kidney disease through our licensing agreement with FibroGen.
- Astellas is developing the world’s first DNA vaccine for cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections. Currently in clinical trials, ASP0113 is a potential first-in-class agent for immunocompromised individuals undergoing solid organ or hematopoietic stem cell transplant who are at risk of viral reactivation. We are also working on a therapeutic vaccine, ASP4070, for Japanese red cedar pollen allergy.
We are building expertise in two new therapeutic areas—ophthalmology and muscle diseases—where there is significant unmet need. Through the Astellas Institute for Regenerative Medicine (AIRM) and external collaborations, we are addressing ophthalmologic diseases with a higher risk of blindness, including age-related and Stargardt’s macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa (RP), and diabetic macular edema (DME). In the muscle disease area, we are collaborating with our partner, Cytokinetics, on a skeletal muscle troponin activator which is being investigated in Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). In addition, Astellas and Cytokinetics have agreed to amend their collaboration agreement to enable the development of CK-2127107 for the potential treatment of ALS and to extend their joint research focused on the discovery of additional next-generation skeletal muscle activators through 2017.
The pharmaceutical industry is intensely competitive and it requires an extensive search for technological innovations. How are you positioned to be a leader in developing new medicines that address unmet medical needs in critical therapeutic areas?
Dr. Zeiher: Astellas is focused on accelerating scientific discovery with an open innovation model. The Astellas open innovation model combines in-house R&D with strategic merger and acquisition approaches to advance research in untouched and complex disease states, allowing the company to maintain steady productivity and maximize its return on R&D investment.
With open innovation, Astellas undertakes research activities in the best possible environment. In some cases, the best environment is within the Astellas research laboratories. In many other cases, we look to collaborate with top biotech and academic leaders. By building partnerships with top researchers and companies that complement our existing expertise, Astellas is able to quickly advance into new technologies and therapeutic areas of research where there is significant unmet medical need.
This approach has helped Astellas credibly enter into, compete and lead in some segments of the most competitive therapeutic areas in the pharmaceutical industry – oncology – and is accelerating the company’s efforts to develop treatments for important emerging therapeutic categories, such as ophthalmology and musculoskeletal disease, as well as leading technologies, such as regenerative medicine and vaccines.
For example, LAMP-vax is a next-generation DNA vaccine that utilizes the body’s natural cellular processing of Lysosomal Associated Membrane Protein (LAMP) to develop a more complete immune response to a target antigen. The ability to activate a more complete immune response gives the LAMP-vax technology potential across a number of diseases, including allergic disease and cancer immunotherapy. In 2015, Astellas established a licensing agreement with Immunomic Therapeutics, Inc. for the LAMP-vax products for the treatment or prevention of any and all allergic diseases in humans, including ARA-LAMP-vax for peanut allergy and other research-stage programs for food or environmental allergies.
Earlier this year, Astellas acquired Ocata Therapeutics, Inc., and established the Astellas Institute for Regenerative Medicine (AIRM) to serve as the global hub for Astellas regenerative medicine and cell therapy research. Our most advanced cellular therapy programs are in ophthalmology, but we are exploring other therapeutic areas. We are working on treatments for ophthalmologic diseases that leave patients at risk for blindness, which include retinitis pigmentosa (RP), age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and Stargardt’s macular degeneration (SMD).
Image SOURCE: Photograph of Dr. Bernhardt Zeiher, President of Development, at Astellas. Courtesy of Todd Rosenberg, 11/17/2014.
Dr. Bernhardt Zeiher serves as President, Development, at Astellas. In this role, he is responsible for all phases of drug development.
Prior to his current role, Dr. Zeiher was executive vice president and Therapeutic Area head, Immunology, Infectious Diseases and Transplantation at Astellas. Of note, he led the development of CRESEMBA® (isavuconazonium sulfate), which received Qualified Infectious Disease Product (QIDP) designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and was approved in 2015 for the treatment of two rare invasive fungal infections. Prior to joining Astellas, he served as vice president of the Inflammation/Immunology therapeutic area at Pfizer.
Dr. Zeiher earned his Doctor of Medicine at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and completed an internal medicine residency at University Hospitals of Cleveland as well as a fellowship in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Dr. Zeiher has received several awards, including being named a Fellow by American College of Physicians in 2004, awarded to those who demonstrate excellence and contributions to both medicine and the broader community of internists.
We would like to thank Jeff Winton, Andrew Lewis and Julie Monzo from the Astellas communications team for the tremendous help and support they provided during this interview.
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