Japanese pharma companies are already far lower-profile than their occidental counterparts but an even lesser-known player may be Taiho Pharmaceutical, a Japanese specialty pharma player that was a pioneer in the field of oral chemotherapy, led by president Masayuki Kobayashi. The company also works in the areas of allergy and immunology, as well as urology.
Established in 1963 as a member of another Japanese pharma company, Otsuka, it was a chance encounter in the former Soviet Union that led to the development and commercialization of Taiho’s first cancer drug. Taiho’s first president, Yukio Kobayashi, was visiting the former Soviet Union for business negotiations, when he encountered what would become Futraful® in a cancer research centre in Moscow. He decided to bring it to Japan for clinical trials. Futraful® became one of the first orally-administered anticancer drug in 1974, which facilitated the introduction of outpatient therapy, later leading to the establishment of the concept of adjuvant chemotherapy. In 1999, Taiho launched the world’s first anticancer agent in orally disintegrating tablet form, meaning that the pill can be ingested without water, TS-1.
Since then, Taiho has continued to invest in the area of oncology, establishing strategic partnerships with global players to continue developing innovative and comprehensive therapies for patients with cancer. In 2002, Taiho established a US subsidiary, now known as Taiho Oncology, led by Tim Whitten, an industry veteran formerly at innovative US biotech Insmed, amongst other positions in companies like BMS and Pharmacyclics. In January 2020, Taiho announced a strategic oncology collaboration with MSD (Merck & Co. in the US and Canada) for the development of small molecule inhibitors against a number of drug targets, and in September 2020, Taiho announced a three-year collaboration with MD Anderson Cancer Center in the US to accelerate the development of novel therapies for brain metastasis and other refractory cancers.
In addition to internal innovation – Taiho invested 26.3 percent of its net sales in R&D in 2019 – Taiho, like a couple of other Japanese companies, has also established a corporate venture capital arm in California, in the US, to invest in promising biotech ventures and scoop up innovative assets.
Today, Taiho’s flagship product, LONSURF®, for the treatment of metastatic colorectal and gastric cancer, has been approved in over 80 countries. The company has also been developing its international presence steadily over the past decade or so. In 2015, Taiho Oncology began marketing LONSURF® directly in the US.
In 2018, LONSURF® was approved in Canada and has been marketed by Taiho’s Canadian subsidiary since. In our 2018 interview with Taiho Pharma Canada general manager Ross Gover, he emphasized the importance of that decision, “being present in Canada is beneficial for global expansion due to its status as a Top Ten pharmaceutical market,” adding as well that “Canada should not be overlooked for R&D operations due to its global connectivity. We offer a more affordable environment than other major countries like Germany, the US or the UK. We have excellent facilities and the best academic minds in the world. We intend to further capitalize on the rich R&D landscape here.”
LONSURF® was launched in Europe through French giant Servier in 2016. Since 2015, Taiho Pharmaceutical and Servier have been in an exclusive license agreement for the co-development and commercialization of LONSURF® in Europe and other countries outside of the US, Canada, Mexico, and Asia. The company has also recently announced in December 2020 that they plan to expand its commercial oncology business into Europe directly, with their European headquarters expected to become fully operational in early-2021.