Doubling down on R&D, Daiichi makes executive changes across its U.S. research unit

Daiichi Sankyo headquarters
The Japanese pharma has seen a series of setbacks in the clinic but has also been spending on external cancer deals. (Daiichi Sankyo)

Japanese pharma Daiichi Sankyo is looking to boost its research focus with a series of changes across its R&D.

First up is Junichi Koga, Ph.D., who will become the company’s new global head of R&D unit, taking over from Glenn Gormley, M.D., Ph.D., who also serves as senior executive officer of the Daiichi Sankyo Company, as well as president and CEO of Daiichi’s U.S. division.

Gormley will, in fact, be stepping down from all of these positions by the end of next month, but staying on as chair of Daiichi and as a “special advisor” to its global CEO Joji Nakayama “on R&D matters.”

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Koga, a 10-year Daiichi veteran, will come into this new role from his current position as head of the R&D division in Japan and will be hopping on a plane to reside at the company’s U.S. site in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

He will also co-chair the “Daiichi Sankyo Global Executive Meeting of Research and Development," its top decision-making body in R&D, together with Antoine Yver, M.D., head of oncology R&D.

Ken Keller, who has been overseeing commercial operations for the Japanese pharma for five years, has been named as the new president and CEO of its U.S. division in place of Gormley. Here, Keller will “focus on forging even stronger collaboration between R&D and commercial efforts, along with enhancing the company's patient-focused culture,” the company says in a statement.

“Close connection between our commercial and R&D organizations in the U.S. and globally will support the next phase of our transformation and growth as a science-based, patient-centered company with a primary focus on oncology,” said Keller.

Koga adds: “As of April 1, it will be my honor to lead our global research and development efforts as we accelerate exciting new molecules through the pipeline. I look forward to deploying the best science from our global R&D operations to create much-needed medicines.”

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This comes amid a mixed time for Daiichi’s research over the past few years, which has seen it shutter a 170-person Indian R&D site, and back in 2017 turned the ax on R&D staffers in its native Japan, culling its research subsidiary, known as Asubio Pharma.

The unit had around 150 employees that worked on psychiatric and neurological diseases, immune and inflammatory diseases and regenerative medicine, some of which were said to be moved around the company’s other R&D units around the globe.

Japan and India joined R&D units in the United Kingdom and Germany on the list of those axed by Daiichi over the past few years.

It’s also seen some issues blight its R&D, including at ESMO 2017 when its antibody-drug conjugate didn't hit the mark in a mid-stage trial, and last spring, when an early-phase trial of Daiichi’s Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug failed to show clear evidence of efficacy (although it vowed to keep going with it).

RELATED: Zymeworks could get up to $485M in expanded Daiichi I-O deal

But whilst sharpening the ax of some R&D sites, it’s also been sharpening its pencil, signing a string of oncology deals designed to give it a pipeline of candidates that can increase its success rate in the clinic.

One of the more high-profile of these agreements is the deal with Kite Pharma (now a part of Gilead), which gave Daiichi the rights to CAR-T drug Yescarta (KTE-C19) in Japan, as well as its doubling down on I-O work with Zymeworks.

Daiichi said the executive changes announced today are slated to help “oversee the realization of the company's long-term vision and strategic priorities, which include delivering seven distinct new molecular entities in oncology by 2025, as well as specialty medicines that change the standard of care.”

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