Japanese drugmakers Eisai, Ajinomoto team up on gastrointestinal diseases

Eisai CEO Haruo Naito

With the self-proclaimed goal of becoming the country's largest gastrointestinal specialty drugmaker, Japan's Eisai and the pharmaceutical subsidiary of Ajinomoto said they will form a 60-40 joint venture with Eisai taking the majority position.

The new company, EA Pharmaceutical, will begin operations in 2016 as a subsidiary of Eisai with Hajime Shimizu at the helm as president and Ajinomoto's president, Takashi Nagamachi, serving as chairman, according to a press release from Eisai.

The deal's "biggest objective is to create the largest gastrointestinal specialty pharma," Eisai CEO Haruo Naito said at a news conference, according to a report in the Nikkei Asian Review.

The company is expected to have sales of $666 million, the report added, and will work to develop new drugs including Ajinomoto's ulcerative colitis treatment that is in the final stages of clinical trials and a Crohn's disease treatment under development at Eisai. The new company will also receive $335 million in marketing rights to certain products, the Nikkei Asian Review said, including its Pariet ulcer treatment, which it launched in 1997 but lost patent protection in 2013.

Ajinomoto is working with Japan's Kissei Pharmaceutical for Phase III candidates AJM300 a4 integrin antagonist and AJG511 budesonide rectal foam to treat ulcerative colitis.

Eisai said in a press release that about 180 employees will be shifted to the new company and will come from departments handling sales, R&D, administration and others.

The Nikkei Asian Review said in its report that Japan's ulcer drug market offered limited room for growth, but Eisai said in its release that the country is experiencing an increase in gastrointestinal diseases because of an aging population and that younger people were also seeing a rise in autoimmune diseases such as Crohn's disease because of changing lifestyles and "social stress."

"By consolidating products, this new integrated company will bring together a product lineup that will comprehensively cover the upper and lower digestive tract as well as the liver and pancreas, enabling the provision of an even wider range of solutions in the field of gastrointestinal disease as well as specialized information for healthcare professionals," Eisai said in its release.

Earlier this year, Ajinomoto announced a joint venture with Kissei to develop and market two treatments for ulcerative colitis.

- here's the story by Nikkei Asian Review
- here's the release from Eisai

EJ Lane contributed to this report.