Founded by Toyoji Naito in December 1941, in just under 80 years, Eisai has become a leading global biopharma player, with pharmaceutical revenues of USD 5.4 billion in 2019.
The company’s central philosophy of human health care (hhc) was introduced in 1992 by current director, representative corporate officer and CEO Dr Haruo Naito shortly after he assumed position at the head of the company in 1988. According to the company, the hhc concept is encapsulated by a “a clear understanding that patients as well as their families and consumers are the key players in healthcare”, and accordingly, Eisai’s “sense of pride in providing benefits to such persons”. To foster this sense of patient-centricity, Eisai recommends that all of its employees spend one percent of their working hours with patients. In recent years, hhc has been expanded to drive Eisai’s pursuit of responsible environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts.
Dr Naito, who is also the grandson of founder Toyoji Naito, was also the one to usher Eisai into global markets. Shortly after Dr Naito became managing director of the company in 1985, he introduced the concept of ‘Eisai Innovation’, which set as a major objective the establishment of a global R&D, manufacturing and commercial network across the US and Europe. Eisai’s first overseas research laboratory was therefore established in Boston, US in 1987, and another established in University College London, UK in 1990.
Currently midway through their ‘EWAY 2025’ medium-term business plan, which began in April 2016, Eisai has set its sights on global leadership in the two therapeutic areas of neurology and oncology. Specifically, the company has defined what it calls ‘Ricchi’ – areas of real unmet patient needs where Eisai can become a frontrunner – and it plans to dedicate its efforts in these areas. Six ‘Ricchi’ have been identified in the neurology area: early and minimally-invasive diagnostics; novel neuro-transmission pathways; proteinopathy; neuro-inflammation and immune-genetics; synapse micro-environment; neuronal regeneration. Two ‘Ricchi’ have been identified in the oncology area: cancer microenvironment; driver gene mutation and aberrant splicing in cancer cells.
With the rollercoaster ride of Alzheimer drug aducanumab – jointly developed by Biogen and Eisai – having reached the final stage, with filings for marketing authorization having been accepted by both the US FDA and the European EMA this year, Eisai has continued its legacy in neurology. When we spoke to Eisai US chairman and president of the global neurology business Ivan Cheung earlier this year, he explained, “the aducanumab experience has been invaluable for advancing research into [Alzheimer’s disease]. [W]e have learned that firstly, the mechanism of action and the target matter. Secondly, dosages also matter.” The Biogen-Eisai collaboration also includes another investigational asset, BAN2401, which is currently under Phase 3 clinical development. Cheung added, “both assets have unique mechanisms of action and have been given in high dosages. Therefore, we are very excited about their potential utilities, and both assets are very important to Eisai.”
Eisai is also already leveraging their aducanumab experience in the establishment of an ‘Eisai Dementia Platform’, which is intended to “deliver novel benefits to those living with dementia and their families” through the construction of a ‘Dementia Ecosystem’ that includes a multitude of players including medical organizations, bio-ventures, private insurance agencies, fitness clubs, retailers, and care facilities.
On the oncology side, one of Eisai’s flagship drugs is LENVIMA®, which has delivered robust performance across different geographies over the past couple of years, with revenues expected to more than double in FY2020. Approved for indications including hepatocellular carcinoma and renal cell carcinoma, LENVIMA® was approved across key markets – Japan, the US, Europe, and China – in 2018.
Like most Japanese pharma companies, Eisai’s home market remains the largest market, representing around 42 percent of 2019 pharmaceutical sales but North America is growing fast, having increased 30 percent from 2018 to 2019 to reach 22 percent of 2019 pharmaceutical sales.
The US has historically been an important part of Eisai, with the first product launched being ARICEPT® in 1997, which was the first therapy available for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Partly as a result of that success, four years later, Eisai broke into the world’s top 20 pharma companies (though today Eisai ranks 32nd on the global top biopharma list), and a year later, Eisai’s overseas sales ratio in 2002 exceeded 50 percent for the first time. As Eisai US chairman and president of the global neurology business Ivan Cheung highlighted, “we expect the US business potentially to comprise around 40 percent of our global business by 2025, which would then make us the largest Eisai affiliate.” In addition, he emphasized, “the US is very important because we have invested significantly in R&D here. We have four major R&D hubs in the US, helping not only patients in the US but also patients globally, through our work on breakthrough medicines.”
Another important market for Eisai today is China, currently Eisai’s third-largest market, with revenues of USD 740 million in 2019. While Eisai first entered mainland China in 1991, its first 100 percent owned subsidiary was only established in 1996. In November 2018, Eisai also established a new manufacturing facility in Suzhou city, China. When we interviewed Eisai China president Fendy Yanhui Feng in 2019, she told us that “Eisai is the top Japanese pharmaceutical company in China and [Eisai China’s] growth has surpassed our Japanese peers in China over the past few years” and her vision was “to become the second-largest affiliate for Eisai globally”.