Astellas Pharma axes Durham R&D site amid generics threat

Tokyo-based Astellas Pharma is ditching its discovery operation in Durham, N.C. The drugmaker plans to close its Urogenix unit there by the end of calendar 2012, leaving the fate of the site's 13 scientists and staff in question.

Astellas bought the Urogenix operation, which focuses on discovery of drugs for urological disorders, back in 2006 from Dynogen Pharmaceuticals. Yet worries over patent losses have since hit the Japanese drugmaker, which faces generic drug competition to its best-selling treatments Prograf, for organ transplant recipients, and the urology disorder drug Harnal.

In June, the FDA stamped a needed approval on Astellas' overactive bladder drug Myrbetriq, providing the company with a new treatment option with a novel mechanism of action as patent exclusivity on a current drug for weak bladders called Vesicare winds down in 2015.

Yet the company obviously sees the need to retrench its R&D efforts amid a stormy overall profit picture, and the Urogenix outfit didn't make the cut. Astellas plans to remain active in the urology arena, which is one of 5 key areas for the company, and relocate research activities from the Urogenix site to its Tsukuba Research Center in Japan.

- here's the release