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Takeda takes aim at becoming next big vaccine developer

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Takeda is wheeling and dealing in an effort to become a global player in the vaccines business, a fast-growing market dominated by the likes of GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Merck ($MRK), Pfizer ($PFE) and Sanofi ($SNY). Takeda, Japan's largest drugmaker, has started small in vaccines but is expanding with a recent acquisition and new recruits from rival companies, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Vaccines to block infections don't generate as much revenue as the top-selling diabetes and arthritis drugs, and bringing a new vaccine to market can take years and massive investments--but the vaccine business has been a growing and relatively steady source of income for some Big Pharma companies as their blockbusters lose patent protection. And perhaps it's no mistake that Takeda decided to expand its vaccines business beyond Japan this year, during which the drugmaker saw its major diabetes drug Actos go generic.

As the former R&D chairman at GSK, Takeda's research chief, Tadataka Yamada, began work at the company last year after a stint with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and after gaining a deep understanding of the global vaccine game. And, as the WSJ reported, Takeda President Yasuchika Hasegawa has been recruiting vaccines business talent away from industry heavyweights such as Novartis ($NVS) and GSK.

The strategy at Takeda's new unit is to advance vaccines that combat bugs for which there are no vaccines, according to the WSJ's report. Last month the company forked over $60 million for Bozeman, MT-based LigoCyte, which has a lead program for such a vaccine against the norovirus gastroenteritis. With no available vaccines, the food-borne stomach bug afflicts about 21 million Americans annually and offers a juicy potential market for Takeda.

"Vaccines take a very long time to develop in terms of the research and development time frames," said Rajeev Venkayya, the head of Takeda's vaccine unit, as quoted by the WSJ. "But at every stage of development, vaccines on average have a higher probability of technical success than pharmaceutical products."

- check out the WSJ's article (sub. req.)

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