Five years into a strategic reboot, Japanese drugmaker Astellas Pharma plans to switch CEOs and “go on the aggressive” to accelerate growth.
Along with a quarterly earnings statement Monday, Astellas revealed that its current CEO, Kenji Yasukawa, will step down in April and be replaced by its chief strategy officer Naoki Okamura. Both have served in their current roles since 2018, when the company mapped out a plan to maintain revenue growth despite the loss of patents protecting some of its top products.
Astellas claims that plan, which involved changing the way it makes research decisions, has been successful, with revenue turning upward since “bottoming out” in the 2020 fiscal year. But it’s now seeking more, claiming in its statement that it “is the right time to go on the aggressive to further accelerate growth.”
In addition to promoting Okamura, who has been with the company for nearly four decades, Astellas made other leadership changes as well. Claus Zieler, who joined the company in 2019, was promoted to chief commercial officer, while corporate strategy executive Adam Pearson will slide into Okamura’s current role. Astellas believes the new group “has the ability to [be] flexible in response” to the changing economic and geopolitical climate, the company said.
Astellas, along with Takeda, Daiichi Sankyo and Eisai, is one of Japan’s largest pharmaceutical companies. It’s also one of the world’s 30 largest drugmakers by market capitalization.
While Astellas earns much of its sales from cancer drugs, the company has bet heavily on cell and gene therapies in recent years as part of the strategic plan it enacted in 2018.
In 2019, for instance, Astellas made its largest acquisition, paying $3 billion for Audentes Therapeutics, a developer of gene therapies for neuromuscular diseases. Last year, it began building a research center in San Francisco that will have a focus on genetic medicines. It also opened a gene therapy manufacturing plant in North Carolina.
But Astellas has suffered setbacks. Studies of Audentes’ top therapy, a treatment for X-linked myotubular myopathy, has been paused multiple times due to safety concerns. Four study participants died after receiving the treatment. A second gene therapy for Pompe disease was also halted after a patient developed nerve damage, though U.S. regulators cleared the company to resume testing last month.
Separately on Monday, Astellas said its revenue rose by around 17% to ¥1.16 trillion, or $8.8 billion, in the first nine months of the fiscal year ending on March 31. Revenue growth was driven by its biggest seller, the prostate cancer drug Xtandi, as well as the cancer medicines Padcev and Xospata.