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12:00 AM
 | 
Jun 17, 2013
 |  BioCentury  |  Strategy

Externalizing Astellas

Astellas' new R&D strategy focused on growing preclinical pipeline

With a stocked late-stage pipeline, Astellas Pharma Inc. has decided to restructure its R&D and give more attention to finding early stage programs by looking outside. The Japanese pharma will eliminate much of its bricks-and-mortar R&D and rely on external collaborations to identify novel drug candidates in both core and new therapeutic areas.

Astellas will continue to invest in clinical stage assets through deals like its May 29 partnership with Amgen Inc. to develop and commercialize five of the biotech's programs in Japan (see "Grounded in Japan," A10).

But with 22 programs in Phase III or registration and 15 Phase II programs, Astellas is turning its attention to building a more sustainable pipeline, President and CEO Yoshihiko Hatanaka told BioCentury (see "Astellas Pipeline," online).

On May 14, Astellas said it would form the Astellas Innovation Management (AIM) unit to identify and acquire preclinical assets and technologies. Previously, the bulk of Astellas' preclinical research had been done in-house.

AIM will coordinate what were previously disparate efforts within the pharma's 11 therapeutic area R&D units and the Astellas Venture Management group. In addition to continuing to invest in and partner with biotechs, the new unit will expand the company's reach into academic and research institutions.

"Previously, these efforts were conducted by multiple departments including Astellas Venture Management. Now, these functions will be consolidated under AIM," Hatanaka said.

Meanwhile, Astellas will shrink its U.S. research footprint by closing OSI Pharmaceuticals LLC and Perseid Therapeutics LLC and scaling back early stage research at Astellas Research Institute of America LLC.

OSI was focused on small molecule kinase-targeted drug discovery for cancer. Perseid was formed under a 2009 JV with Maxygen Inc. to discover and develop drugs for autoimmune and transplant indications.

An undisclosed set of research activities from the closed facilities will be transferred to Astellas' Tsukuba R&D center, and the pharma will maintain oncology R&D at its new facility in Santa Monica, Calif., as well as the Yaizu Pharmaceutical Research Center and the Kiyosu Research office.

In December, Astellas closed its Urogenix Inc. facility in Durham, N.C. Research at the site, which focused on drug discovery for genitourinary diseases, was transferred to Tsukuba.

Hatanaka told BioCentury the closures are intended to result in an "agile research framework" that will enable Astellas to work with a wider range of parties, including CROs, without being tied to specific geographies or research platforms.

The changes aren't expected to affect overall R&D spending, which was 18% of sales for FY12 ended March 31.

"R&D is a key for us...

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