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Towards a New Possibility of
Pharmaceutical Innovation

President, Universal Cells Taku Yoshida

A turning point that started from encountering a new approach to drug discovery

I joined Astellas in 2015. Until then, I worked in the oncologyresearch department at another pharmaceutical firm. It all started when I was still working at my previous job. I had an opportunity to work as a visiting scientist at a cancer research center in Boston that was part of the life sciences cluster. What I saw there was what’s known as open innovation; creating new values by making use of a variety of seeds and networks around the world to deliver medicines to patients. Their approach was very different from the approach that we had been taking, which was to “deliver the medicine that you created from scratch using your own ideas.”. I realized from this experience that you don’t have to do everything by yourself. Instead, you can combine the strengths of various people inside and outside your company while expressing your own ideas and making a significant contribution.

The company I worked for at the time was quite new to the idea of open innovation and didn’t have enough experience and know-how for it. I came across Astellas when I was searching for a company in Japan that was actively introducing innovative ideas from outside sources. I felt I could bring a new approach to drug development here, just as I had seen in Boston.

I was satisfied with the research environment and remuneration at my former job, so my plan was to check out Astellas’ environment first and decide to switch if their conditions were good. During that time, the recruitment officer suggested that I have a casual one-on-one interview with the (then) Oncology research unit manager. My previous research center was located pretty close to that of Astellas, so I got the chance to speak with the manager straight away. When I told the manager at the interview about what I wanted to do, his reaction was, “You can do anything you want.” So I decided to change my environment and give it a shot at Astellas.

A challenging and rewarding career at Astellas

After joining the company, I proactively developed numerous collaborative research projects with international biotech companies to help Astellas establish its position with a competitive advantage. The process of obtaining final approval for external partnership projects was very speedy, and I was surprised by how systematically things progressed here compared to my previous workplace. Astellas has a great environment where employees are given discretion regardless of age and career, can work closely with the executives, and have their opinions easily adopted.

I served as a head of the Immuno-Oncology division. My role was to oversee the entire research, as well as to create drug discovery programs in our Primary Focus, “Immuno-Oncology.” My duties include leading the process of combining internal and external resources to generate innovative ideas and transforming them into patient values. Since I’m doing what originally motivated me to change my job, I found my current work rewarding, and I was able to feel the growth in my career. In addition, working in the Immuno-Oncology research team with reliable colleagues who share the same vision and strive towards the same goal of delivering medicines to cancer patients made this job extra rewarding.

All of the employees at Astellas are sincere, many of whom will give you a hand when you ask for help. As a person who joined the company mid-career, I was so grateful for such a supportive environment. The company also proactively recruits mid-career employees and fosters systems and environments that welcome ideas from external sources. These kinds of connections are something that I value in my work as well. Just as I’ve learned from open innovation, while there may be a limit to what you can achieve individually, you can do more things and overcome difficulties if you gather individual strengths and combine those strengths as a team. In order to achieve that, I communicate with my team members, work on co-creations with other departments, and proactively build networks inside and outside the company.

Bringing together individual strengths and heading towards a shared VISION

Since Astellas develops its business in a global environment, I feel that I’ve gained a lot of experience since joining this company. Currently, as president of Universal Cells in Seattle, I am leveraging my experience to promote the creation of medicines using our unique cell modality. Cell therapy is a big challenge for Astellas as there are still few success stories in the world. However, I believe that by sticking to the style that I have cultivated at Astellas, without fearing change or failure, I believe we will be able to provide patients with new value in cell therapy field.

Astellas takes the stance of adopting good ideas and methods from both internal and external sources, which is suitable for the pharmaceutical industry where it’s difficult to foresee the future. Just as they accepted me into their company, they have no hesitation in adopting external influences. I think Astellas is a great place, especially for people who want to be innovative while embracing diversity in a global team or to handle projects using their abilities, irrespective of age and background. Astellas offers a supportive environment for people who aren’t afraid of change and are ready to take on challenges to make a difference with their own hands. Sharing the same VISION is definitely important, but the way people strive towards that goal varies among individuals. I’m sure Astellas will support us through that with everything they’ve got.

Research department introduction