As we face significant global health challenges, the need for accelerated innovation through new, breakthrough modalities has never been greater. Dr. Tadaaki Taniguchi believes that achieving the most meaningful work for patients means pushing the boundaries of science, challenging traditional expectations and working at the edge of your comfort zone.
Taniguchi’s drive to innovate for patients began during his career in medicine, working as a surgical oncologist and clinical researcher. Now, with 20 years of global biopharma experience under his belt, his journey has led him to the role of Chief Medical Officer at Astellas.
One year into the job, Taniguchi has already made significant strides in evolving the organization’s approach to R&D in the pursuit of accelerated scientific innovation.
“We have an incredible amount of talent at Astellas, with industry-leading capabilities and a strong global presence,” says Taniguchi. “I was fortunate to inherit a strong legacy of success, but we know patients are waiting and we know we need to innovate even faster.”
For Taniguchi, this means defining new, often unexpected scientific pathways and creating an environment where innovation thrives, enabling teams and individuals to apply a challenger spirit to problem-solve differently.
It starts with the best science
Taniguchi knows that in today’s fast-paced environment, a resolute focus on the very best science is essential.
“A lot of what attracted me to Astellas was its ‘Science First’ approach. We focus on the most promising science, empower the best talent to pursue it, and develop it at the best location. This mentality, guided by our ambitious, long-term Focus Area approach, is enabling us to bring innovative therapies to patients in need, with a new generation of programs and novel therapies now in development.”
This strategy guides the organization’s R&D activities, to build a sustainable, expandable drug discovery approach centered on five Primary Focuses – Blindness and Regeneration, Genetic Regulation, Immuno-oncology, Mitochondria and Targeted Protein Degradation – where it believes it has the expertise and capabilities to deliver the most value for patients.
Taniguchi has overseen several milestones, including the FDA approval of fezolinetant for the treatment of ‘hot flashes’ due to menopause and the FDA accelerated approval for enfortumab vedotin in combination with pembrolizumab for the treatment of adult patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial cancer who are not eligible to receive cisplatin-containing chemotherapy – a testament to Astellas’ commitment to delivering innovative therapies in underserved areas. Exciting progress has also been made in its gene therapy pipeline, with encouraging safety and efficacy data reported in Pompe disease and the global filing of zolbetuximab which, if approved, would be the first CLDN18.2-targeted therapy for patients with gastrointestinal adenocarcinomas and pancreatic tumors.
Going forward, a focus on collaboration and partnership – both within the organization, and with academia and other organizations that share Astellas’ vision – will be a key priority to further understand the science behind unmet medical needs and set robust development strategies.
An evolving R&D model
Taniguchi firmly believes we can only meet the urgent needs of patients through scientific discovery if we inspire people to be bold and do things differently. This means evolving Astellas’ R&D organization model to enable teams to move beyond their traditional ways of working and instead thrive outside of their comfort zone.
“At Astellas, we’re aiming to bring meaningful innovation to patients quicker. To help us do so, we’re simplifying governance, encouraging ownership, and aligning our cross-organizational structures to create an environment where teams can work more freely and cross-functionally to create and innovate at speed.”
The evolving R&D model has resulted in Astellas achieving an investigational new drug submission for ASP3082, a protein degrader in clinical development for mutated KRAS, in record time. “Our approach has been to draw on our deep heritage in oncology, our proprietary KRAS research and our expertise in developing targeted medicines” explains Taniguchi.
While Taniguchi acknowledges it takes time and effort to reframe mindsets and behaviors, he reflects that “emphasizing the importance of setting high ambitions and a constant reminder of the end goal – transforming patients’ lives – is driving all of us to flourish and succeed in our evolving model as we all passionately believe in the difference we can make.”
The power of intelligent risk-taking
“There is inherent power in intelligent risk-taking along the path to scientific discovery,” reflects Taniguchi. “In R&D, we’re working at the forefront of healthcare change, operating in uncharted territories and amid uncertainty more often than not – it’s how we manage this that helps us make a real difference for patients.”
For Taniguchi, it is vital to have a growth mindset and challenge the status quo. This approach is reflected in the organizational culture Astellas is building, where learning from failure and diversity of thinking are actively encouraged.
“As I look to the future, I’m excited by the speed of scientific and technological progress and what this holds for delivering much-needed therapies to patients. Through challenging traditional expectations and working at the edge of our comfort zone, we’re well on our way to addressing some of the most urgent health challenges facing our world today.”