The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

In 2018, AstraZeneca is expected to bring an unprecedented six new treatments to market, delivering life-changing breakthroughs to patients in Japan—all made possible by groundbreaking research and development (R&D). Tadaaki Taniguchi, senior vice president of Research & Development Japan, is a medical doctor who brings hands-on experience treating patients to the oversight of all new drug development by AstraZeneca in Japan. Taniguchi talked to The ACCJ Journal about his strategy, the opportunities provided by new technology, and what the future holds.

What is your strategy for R&D?
Our strategy is to make Japan part of the global development process, allowing us to receive approval and launch products simultaneously in Japan, the United States, and Europe.
We are also looking at how Japan can contribute to our global development efforts by being the first market to receive approval for select medicines, ahead of the United States and Europe.

What are the key opportunities?
A huge opportunity lies in the application of real-world evidence. In April, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, together with the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency, launched the MID-NET database, which includes anonymized data from four million patients across Japan. If we can leverage this, we can provide more meaningful data and increase the value of our products for doctors and patients. Ultimately, we can use this data to accelerate the development of new medicines. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotic auto­mation, also hold great promise, and we have started looking at how we can utilize these advanced technologies to accelerate the development of new treatments for patients.

Why is Japan a priority for AstraZeneca?
This is the world’s second-largest pharmaceuticals market in terms of new drugs, and we have achieved a track record of successful launches here. AstraZeneca sees opportunities for continued growth in Japan driven by the capabilities we have built here to bring new medicines and innovation to patients through the synergy of marketing, medical advances, and R&D. Predictability is also very high in Japan compared with other countries. Once you have approval, within three months your product is available to physicians for prescription.

What have been the biggest changes in recent years?
In terms of technology, the biggest change has really been digitalization. That’s where we are really looking for future opportunities. If you have access to Big Data, how are you actually using this data? We need to look at technology that can help us reduce the cost of development by improving productivity as well as providing more innovative approaches to drug development. Big Data can do this.

In terms of artificial intelligence, we have begun looking at how simulation modeling can increase the accuracy of our predictions. In the future, this technology may help us find the best way to develop new medicines and minimize the risk of investing in treatments that don’t complete the development process.

What are the next steps for AstraZeneca’s R&D?
We need to prepare for changes in the social and regulatory environment. Again, one of the biggest things we need to look at is the cost of development and how we can reduce that cost and improve our R&D productivity. We are also looking at opportunities to move AstraZeneca’s global R&D forward by introducing Japanese science and technology.

Key to this is increasing our expertise in Japan to better utilize the talent we have here. One area we have been focusing on over the past few years is the number of physicians developing our products. When I joined the company three years ago, we had about 12 MDs working in our R&D in Japan, but soon we will have 24. The areas in which we are now working demand even more specialization and expertise to develop medicines in a smarter and faster way; so, doubling the numbers of physicians working on staff is extremely important to enable us to accelerate development. As doctors who have practiced medicine before, we understand what doctors need and how to bring those treatment options to them.

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AstraZeneca sees opportunities for continued growth in Japan driven by the capabilities we have built here to bring new medicines and innovation to patients