Astellas Taps New CEO in Nod to Accelerated Growth

Astellas_Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images

courtesy of Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images

Monday, Astellas named a new president and CEO and announced additional changes to its leadership structure in an effort to accelerate growth and chart its long-term business trajectory.

Effective April 1, the Tokyo-based biopharma will be led by Naoki Okamura, currently serving as representative director, executive vice president and chief strategic officer at Astellas.

Okamura has been with the company for 37 years and began occupying leadership posts in October 2010, when he became president and CEO of OSI Pharmaceuticals Inc., which Astellas acquired in May of the same year.

Astellas’ current president and CEO, Kenji Yasukawa, will transition into his new role as representative director and chairman of the board. Yasukawa first joined Astellas in April 1986 and has served as its chief executive since April 2018.

Alongside Okamura and Yasukawa, Astellas also named Claus Zieler, current president, established markets commercial, as its new chief commercial officer.

Progress in Focus Areas

Since Yasukawa took helm in fiscal year 2018, Astellas has been focused on implementing its Corporate Strategic Plan 2018 and Corporate Strategic Plan 2021. These mandates were intended to achieve Astellas’ vision of "turning innovative science into value for patients."

A crucial component of the 2021 Plan is the company’s Focus Area approach, which channels Astellas’ resources into five therapeutic areas of primary focus with the goal of developing innovative treatments.

One of these is gene therapies. In recent years, Astellas has taken significant steps to improve its capacities and deepen its portfolio in this area.

In October 2022, for example, the company inked a $50 million deal with Taysha Gene Therapies to gain access to 15% of the Texas biopharma’s common stock and gene therapy programs for Rett syndrome and giant axonal neuropathy.

In December 2021, Astellas pledged up to $1.6 billion in a collaboration with Dyno Therapeutics to make its gene therapies safer. This move is especially pertinent to Astellas, whose candidates have often run into regulatory speedbumps due to safety issues.

Immuno-oncology is another primary focus, and Astellas has made strides in this space as well. In November 2022, the company reported its investigational antibody zolbetuximab aced the Phase III SPOTLIGHT trial in CLDN18.2-positive, HER2-negative gastric or gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma.

Zolbetuximab notched a similar late-stage win a month later, clearing the primary efficacy endpoint in the Phase III GLOW trial.

Astellas’ other primary focus areas are blindness and regeneration, mitochondrial function and targeted protein degradation.

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