Takeda preps for 'stringent' R&D as a new boss takes the reins

Takeda COO Christophe Weber

Christophe Weber, Takeda's anointed next CEO, sees a brighter future through specialization for the Japanese drugmaker, promising to focus only on therapeutic areas where it can lead, leaving behind losing programs.

The French national told Reuters that the future Takeda will be "stringent" about its R&D spending, learning the lessons of a few painful clinical failures and regrouping around its best bets to come away with a market leader. "If we do research in oncology or in gastro-intestine diseases, are we good enough to be among the best?" he said.

Weber, slated to become the first non-Japanese leader of the 233-year-old company come next year, told the news service he plans to announce any planned corporate changes by year's end, adding that he and the board are still deciding whether to bow out of any of Takeda's 6 therapeutic areas.

In the meantime, the company's pipeline has only further thinned. December's late-stage failure of the diabetes drug TAK-875, or fasiglifam, dealt a sizable blow to its hopes in diabetes, where it's looking to blunt the impact of a 2012 patent loss for the blockbuster Actos. And just last month, the company dumped its top cancer candidate, acquired in the $8.8 billion buyout of Millennium, after it failed to significantly improve overall survival in two studies.

Stilted R&D has left Takeda with few near-term prospects for sales growth, and, in 2013, the company unveiled an efficiency plan that calls for nearly 3,000 job cuts in the U.S. and Europe to save about $1 billion by 2017.

Now Weber is talking up a move he believes will make Takeda more "efficient and agile," as the GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) veteran follows through on outgoing chief Yasuchika Hasegawa's directive to transition the company into a modern, global drug developer.

But change likely won't come easy for the centuries-old organization, and Weber, who came aboard as chief operating officer in April, has already run into backlash. In June, more than 100 former Takeda executives and shareholders penned a note to management bemoaning its recent embrace of "foreigners," including Weber and recently appointed heads of finance, commercialization and human resources.

Among their fears is the idea that externally sourced managers will prize near-term profits over Takeda's longitudinal legacy, transforming a proud institution into something its founders wouldn't recognize.

That's a minority viewpoint, Weber told Reuters, and his recent winning of a board seat signals some broad support among the company's leadership. Still, the incoming CEO said he's taking care to ease Takeda's transition.

"You need to be mindful of what you change and what you don't, and the speed at which you change and how you involve people," he said. "I'm not looking for a revolution. It's more like evolution."

- read the interview