The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

There is likely no one among us who has not been touched by Alzheimer’s disease—whether you have experienced it firsthand or only heard about it. Alzheimer’s patients and their loved ones are in a daily fight, and Eli Lilly Japan is proud to be part of that fight. We know that the first person to be cured of Alzheimer’s disease is alive right now.

Today’s innovative pipeline is one of the most promising ever. But, failure is a reality with which we struggle every single day. My company alone has invested more than $3 billion over the past three decades in the search for a cure.

However, despite our many attempts—and those of other companies—there is still no medicine on the market that effectively treats or slows Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, just before the 2016 Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, my company had to announce that a much-anticipated candidate drug—designed to slow the effects of Alzheimer’s disease—did not meet the primary endpoint after a huge Phase III clinical trial. This was a tremendous blow to millions of Alzheimer’s patients and their families around the world. Lilly’s team was heartbroken.

Drug development is a very risky business. Innovation rarely occurs in a single magnificent sweep. Rather, innovation is the product of many incremental steps—sometimes successful and sometimes not.

In fact, we experience more failures than successes, but this is all part of the critical learning process that advances the science. This is why the biopharmaceutical industry, based on research and development (R&D), relies so heavily on a transparent, predictable, and innovative ecosystem of which companies, caregivers, patients, researchers, policymakers, and government officials are part and to which they contribute. Collectively, we can ensure that the fight continues. We share the responsibility not to give in to short-term thinking at the expense of long-term objectives.

Japan has a legacy of innovation, and I am hopeful that the country will continue to play a key role in biomedical progress. Some of the world’s top medicines are products of Japanese R&D, and Japan is a world leader in healthcare. The Japanese people enjoy a level of health and longevity that is the envy of the world.

Over the years, I have seen considerable progress in Japan’s efforts to create an environment conducive to biopharmaceutical research. A key measure of progress is the reduction of approval times for new medicines. When I joined Lilly in the 1990s, our company faced delays of six to eight years in product approvals whereas the United States or Europe had very few delays. Now, we are able to launch new medicines in Japan at more or less the same time as in those markets, bringing innovations to Japanese patients more quickly.

We also welcome pricing-system improvements that create greater price stability in Japan during a medicine’s exclusivity period. By introducing the price maintenance premium, Japan has created a good balance that Lilly wants to preserve. Backward movement would be most regrettable. We also must ensure that measures to introduce health technology assessment (HTA) do not result in new drug lags as we see in other countries with HTA systems. In such cases, patients have to wait an additional one to three years to gain access to innovative, life-improving and life-saving drugs.

With government maintenance of policies that support the biopharmaceutical innovation ecosystem, Lilly has confidence in the future of biopharmaceuticals in Japan. We remain hopeful because today’s biomedical advances are taking us places we could only imagine yesterday. We are driving innovation with a diverse workforce, and continue to create an inclusive organization to deliver our promise to unite caring and discovery to make life better for people. We will not give up the fight, because patients can’t afford for us to give up. We are already back at work, and we will remain at work until we find a cure. But we cannot do it alone. We call on the government and others to remain in this fight together.

Patrik Jonsson is governor, ACCJ–Kansai, and president, Eli Lilly Japan
We know that the first person to be cured of Alzheimer’s disease is alive right now.