Beleaguered Daiichi Sankyo shuttering German antibody business

It's been rough lately for Daiichi Sankyo, and things are getting tougher for several dozen employees in Europe. The beleaguered Japanese drugmaker is shuttering its German antibody subsidiary, months after it announced that it would cut in half its U.S. workforce in a bid to revive business and prepare for the patent loss of its best-selling drug.

The company will shut down its U3 unit to "strengthen its global R&D capabilities by increasing efficiency and streamlining processes," Daiichi said in a statement. Daiichi shelled out €150 million in 2008 for U3, which employs about 40 staff members and develops antibody treatments for cancer.

Tokyo-based Daiichi picked up the company to get its hands on its lead drug candidate for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), breast cancer and head and neck cancer. But 7 years later, the treatment is U3's only candidate in clinical development and other treatments are still in early stages, PMLiVE points out. Daiichi plans on transferring R&D from its German subsidiary to its Biologics Function division in Tokyo, it said in a statement, where it can keep a close eye on progress.

The move comes after the company announced that it would slash up to 1,200 jobs in the U.S. to refocus on specialty drugs including its new clot-fighter Savaysa and constipation drug Movantik, which it markets with AstraZeneca ($AZN). Daiichi's top seller, blood pressure med Benicar, is about to lose exclusivity and the company is steeling itself for this loss. Benicar brought in $2.6 billion in 2014 sales, making up about 27% of Daiichi's fiscal year revenue.

But the company could face a tough road ahead with Savaysa. The drug competes in a market packed with blockbuster rivals, including Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Xarelto; Pfizer ($PFE) and Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) Eliquis; and Boehringer Ingelheim's Pradaxa. Analysts say that Daiichi's drug could bring in $220 million by 2019, hardly enough to fill Benicar's big shoes.

Daiichi could turn to M&A, but that strategy hasn't exactly worked for the company in the past. The company's buyout of Ranbaxy Laboratories in 2008 crashed and burned due to manufacturing problems. Last year Daiichi agreed to sell Ranbaxy to Sun Pharma, closing at least one tumultuous chapter in the company's recent history.

- read Daiichi's statement
- here's the PMLiVE story

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