Global Warming - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Global Warming
The Japanese Pharma League has spent almost $50 billion in a whirlwind year of foreign deals. But as the case of Astellas illustrates, becoming a global player in a game of catch-up will cost more than just money


Pharmaceutical Executive


The Scientific Method

Gary Gabrielsen, head of business development at Astellas Pharma US, is upbeat when asked about the company's widely perceived need for a new drug to launch as profits from Prograf, Flomax, and Vesicare go south. "Astellas will not hesitate to invest in a late-stage product or any product that fits in with its larger strategy to develop its core therapeutic areas," says Gabrielsen.

But is Astellas actively looking for a late-stage product?

"Business development is an ongoing process. We're always looking at a mix of all kinds of partnerships and of products. Sometimes the focus may be a little more on one than the others," Gabrielsen notes.

But Gabrielsen does not deny Astellas' problem. He says that most of Big Pharma finds itself between the rock of patent expiration and the hard place of low innovation. But he does not say that Astellas is trying to solve the problem by looking for a late-stage drug.

It may be that (announced layoffs and projected shortfalls notwithstanding) Astellas is secure enough to keep its eye on the prize of "Vision 2015." Says Decision Resources' Jackie Innes: "Astellas says it will consider all options, but in reality they will probably do nothing out of the blue. They will both augment their portfolio and gain presence slowly."

"Relative to other companies, Astellas may not be ready to deal with the oncoming patent loss," Toshiaki Iituka says. "They just merged in 2005 and may need to sort out internally what management decisions need to be made."

If Japanese pharmas are moving in the same direction as Big Pharma in general—oncology, biologics, emerging markets—it remains to be seen if their management is doing the same. US and European companies are increasingly promoting a new generation of younger leaders who have rotated through several different countries, if not continents. On the other hand, the image many have of us have of Japanese corporations, however inaccurate, is of an aging hierarchical structure with a 90-year-old CEO a the top.

Innovation also increasingly requires diversity, the creativity of differences. "To succeed as a truly global player," says IMS's Ray Hill, "Companies are going to have diverse management teams, international perspectives—exactly what comes from doing business with people of all nationalities."

For now, says Hill, "Japanese culture is very monolithic, and the companies tend to be run by a group of Japanese guys. That is a serious shortcoming."

But he, like most other analysts we interviewed, believe that it is only a matter of time—and, of course, trial and error—before the Japanese Pharma League's "going out" leads to going truly global.


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