Weber intends to build Takeda into a global player but stay true to its Japanese heritage

Christophe Weber

Takeda Pharmaceuticals' new French-born CEO knows he is seen as an outsider by many Japanese, including some of Takeda's alumni. He appreciates their concerns and says Takeda will remain a Japanese-based company, true to its heritage. But he also knows the man who hired him expects him to build the company into a global contender and says that is what he intends to do.

"I think Takeda has a possibility to really become a truly global leader, and I insist on it being Japan-based," Christophe Weber, who will become CEO at year-end, tells The Japan Times. "I think there is sometimes this fear that, because I'm a foreigner, (Takeda may) lose its roots in Japan. Not at all," the 47-year-old Weber told the newspaper.

Weber was hand-picked by CEO Yasuchika Hasegawa to succeed him as in that role when Hasegawa moves to a senior board position next year. And Hasegawa has given him explicit directions to make Takeda into a more global company, Weber said, a transition that Hasegawa started with acquisitions of Nycomed and biotech Millennium. Without those, Weber pointed out, the company "would have been half our current size, and ... would have to cut (our) research and development investment by half as well."

But Weber faces a tough situation. The company hasn't had a big breakthrough in its pipeline since its key selling diabetes drug Actos went off patent two years ago and has been unable to cut costs enough to offset the loss of revenue. Its net income of ¥107 billion ($1.05 billion) for the year ended in March was at a 15-year low. It has forecast a 7.7% increase in operating profit this year, but its prospects for more growth were dimmed late last year when it dropped development of what it hoped would be an important new diabetes drug over safety concerns. Then to add to its pain, in April it and partner Eli Lilly ($LLY) were nailed with a whopping $9 billion verdict for allegedly hiding the risks of Actos.

There have been some wins for Takeda. The company in May got approval in the U.S. and Europe for Entyvio, its new treatment for ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. The drug has been predicted to hit blockbuster status by CFO François-Xavier Roger, another non-Japanese exec that Hasegawa hired. Last week the FDA expanded the use of Takeda's cancer med Velcade for use in patients with relapsing multiple myeloma who previously responded to the drug. 

But as Weber was assuming his new role, 110 former Takeda employees sent a public letter to the board, critical of its choice of a "foreigner" to run the 230-year-old Japanese company. In answer to those worries, Weber promises he has not only Takeda's future in mind but also its heritage. "Takeda's values are very specific, and ... linked to the history of Takeda," he told The Japan Times. "I'm very respectful about it."

- read The Japan Times' story 
- here's the Velcade release