Takeda's Millennium Pharmaceuticals R&D rejig unfolds

Last month Takeda Pharmaceutical made some major changes at its oncology unit, Millennium. Millennium CEO Deborah Dunsire stepped down and company veteran Anna Protopapas stepped in as president of the company, which will no longer operate as autonomously as it had before the reorganization.

As reported last month, the reorganization of Cambridge, MA-based Millennium, which Takeda acquired for $8.8 billion in 2008, will come at the expense of an undisclosed number of jobs. In an interview on June 10, Protopapas said that decisions about R&D jobs at Millennium would likely be made by the end of this summer. Based on her comments, it's clear that Takeda is as interested as ever in growing its oncology business but has decided to do so with Millennium as an integrated rather than autonomous group within the company--and with fewer employees.

"At the end of the day this is in no way a reduction of commitment," Protopapas says. "The commitment to oncology is still there and it's very strong. Velcade and the late-stage oncology pipeline are extremely important to Takeda achieving its midrange growth targets."

The interview with Protopapas shed light on her history at Millennium and why she was tapped to take the helm. Protopapas, 48, joined Millennium Pharmaceuticals in 1997 and played a key role in the dealmaking activities that helped transform the company from a genomics platform operation to an integrated developer with a focus in oncology. As Millennium's head of business development, she led the partnership discussions with Takeda that evolved into buyout talks as Takeda sought to acquire Millennium's marquee myeloma drug Velcade and other assets. She left her role at Millennium in fall 2010 to head global business development for Takeda, and she has kept that job along with her new responsibilities at Millennium.

Karen Ferrante, Millennium's chief medical officer, heads oncology R&D and reports directly to Takeda's global head of research, Tachi Yamada, a former chief of research for GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and more recently the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Like Protopapas, Yamada reports to Takeda CEO Yasuchika Hasegawa.

The clinical pipeline has remained the same. Takeda spends about $1 billion on oncology R&D, or about a third of its total research budget, Protopapas said. Millennium has 16 assets in clinical development and three experimental therapies in Phase III trials, including TAK-700 (discovered at Takeda) in prostate cancer, an oral successor to Velcade known as MLN9708 for multiple myeloma and MLN8237 for peripheral T cell lymphoma. The initial late-stage data from the TAK-700 program are expected later this year, making it the top contender in the experimental pipeline to watch this year.

Takeda has been cutting costs after losing exclusivity on its top-selling drug Actos for diabetes last year, and Millennium has become one of many units to feel the pressure.

Pharmalot's interview with Protopapas last week touched on the merits of autonomous biotech units within large pharma companies. The Millennium shakeup closely followed GlaxoSmithKline's decision to close the labs of Sirtris, which the London-based drug giant bought in 2008 and had kept open to continue its research.

- check out Protopapas's Q&A with Pharmalot
- see our story on the reorganization news from last month

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