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Research units to close as Astellas restructures

US subsidiaries OSI Pharmaceuticals and Perseid Therapeutics among those affected

OSI PharmaceuticalsJapan's second-largest pharma company Astellas has started a major restructuring of its R&D operations that will lead to the downsizing and closure of several research units.

The firm says it plans to close down US small-molecule cancer drug discovery subsidiary OSI Pharmaceuticals (pictured right) - best known for its role in the discovery of non-small cell lung cancer therapy Tarceva (erlotinib) - which was bought by Astellas in 2010.

Also for the chop is another US unit - protein drug developer Perseid Therapeutics, which is focusing on the development of rheumatoid arthritis therapy Maxy-4 - while activities at the Astellas Research Institute of America (ARIA) will be scaled back to focus only on central nervous system R&D. The latest closures come after Astellas shut down a US urology research facility last August.

Astellas' Japanese operations are not unaffected by the cutbacks, with its Kashima facility in Osaka scheduled to close in fiscal 2015. The company has also said it will stop all in-house drug discovery research based on fermentation of natural substances, which is largely carried out at a unit in Toyama. Some of the activities of the affected units will be transferred to Astellas' Tsukuba Research Centre.

The restructuring is accompanied by a top-down change in R&D strategy designed to boost productivity and refocus research, with a shift into some new therapeutic categories such as regenerative medicine and vaccines.

A dedicated team will be set up by October to seek out and manage external research collaborations, and therapeutic research units will be given greater autonomy to make them more nimble and remove red tape that slows down decisions. Astellas will also extend its ' already-implemented multi-track R&D' - which prioritises projects according to their importance - earlier in the drug development process.

Astellas made the announcement after releasing growth forecasts for the current fiscal year which - while buoyant on the surface - will be impacted by exchange rate factors. The company expects fiscal 2013 net income to climb by a third to 110bn yen ($1.1bn) and sales to increase 16 per cent to 1,200bn yen.

For fiscal 2012, revenues grew a little under 4 per cent to 1,000bn yen - driven by immunosupressant Prograf (tacrolimus), Vesicare (solifenacin succinate) for overactive bladder and recently-launched prostate cancer drug Xtandi (enzalutamide) - while net income was up 6 per cent to 83bn yen.

The company has suffered some setbacks of late, however. Earlier this year an FDA advisory committee turned down its tivozanib as a treatment for kidney cancer, and the company stopped development of anticoagulant darexaban in acute coronary syndromes after concluding the market was too crowded for another entrant.

14th May 2013

From: Research

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