Astellas to “Go on the Aggressive” Under New CEO


In the five years since the Japanese drugmaker began a strategic shift and created an ambitious plan to maintain growth, CEO Kenji Yasukawa helped Astellas move away from its previous business model and bounce back from failing revenues. With the appointment of former chief strategy officer Naoki Okamura as its new CEO, Astellas plans to “go on the aggressive” to further accelerate growth.


Fiscal year 2023 is the right time to go on the aggressive to further accelerate growth

When Kenji Yasukawa was appointed in 2018, Astellas had to overcome the expiration of patents for products that had driven its previous growth. To do this, it drafted a comprehensive corporate strategy, updated in 2021 (CSP2021). Yasukawa successfully turned the firm’s downward trend around after its revenues bottomed out in 2020, led the company through a major restructuring and away from its former focus on specific disease areas.

To continue implementing the strategy, which leads into 2025, and further accelerate growth, Astellas announced its choice of chief strategy officer Naoki Okamura as new CEO. “Fiscal year 2023 is the right time to go on the aggressive to further accelerate growth,” the company said in its release.

Okamura, an Astellas veteran who has been with the company for 37 years, will take over on April 1. Yasukawa will then become chairman of the board and Adam Pearson, currently executive VP of corporate strategy, will move into Okamura’s former role.

According to the company, the current strategy as implemented by Yasukawa has been successful thus far, with revenues at last turning upward.  Yet Astellas is opting for a management change because it claims: “it is best for it to consider and implement strategies for achieving CSP2021, which ends in fiscal year 2025 and long-term growth beyond that under the new leadership.”

Okamura has already proven his capacity for big strategic moves. In his role as chief strategy officer, he has led the company through a number of pivotal acquisition deals to garner gene therapy and CAR-T assets, namely the purchase of gene therapy specialist Audentes for USD 3 million and the CAR-T biotech Xyphos.

Under Yasukawa, Astellas set out to change the way it made research decisions, move away from its previous focus on specific disease areas to a “multifaceted perspective,” and make progress “in developing new drug candidates that will drive future revenues.” In addition, the firm underwent a major reorganization, eliminating a number of departments and laying off some 600 employees in Japan.

Concurrent with the announcement of its new CEO, Astellas also reported its revenues, stating a rise of around 17 percent to USD 8.8 billion in the first nine months of the fiscal year ending on March 31. Its biggest selling product, the prostate cancer drug Xtandi, responsible for USD 3.9 billion, along with cancer medicines Padcev and Xospata, were responsible for driving much of that growth.

There will be some challenges ahead for Okamura, not least safety concerns over its X-linked myotubular myopathy gene therapy, for example, after four study participants died during trials. Moreover, Xtandi, its Pfizer-partnered drug is set to lose its patent protection in 2026.

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