Daiichi Sankyo takes oncology shift into next phase with new global business unit

Office building showing Daiichi Sankyo logo
Diiachi Sankyo plans to integrate its oncology business under one group next year as it transforms into an oncology drugmaker. (Daiichi Sankyo)

Daiichi Sankyo is taking another big step in its transformation to oncology drugmaker. The pharma company recently laid out plans to create an integrated oncology business unit, tapping current U.S. business chief Ken Keller to take the reins when it opens its doors on April 1.

The new unit consolidates all of Daiichi’s U.S. and European oncology functions across global marketing, market access and pricing, and medical affairs, along with alliance management, which covers its antibody-drug conjugate partnership with AstraZeneca. Keller, who currently serves as president and CEO of Daiichi Sankyo in the U.S., will become head of the oncology business unit and continue in his Daiichi Sankyo U.S. role.

“Our plan is to become one of the fastest-growing oncology companies globally, as measured by new product revenue,” Keller said. “That’s what we’re driving toward, and we’ve got everything in place now. We’ve got the development organization, manufacturing organization and now will have the business organization all transformed and focused on oncology.”

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The move is the last step in Daiichi’s transformation from a small-molecule metabolic and cardiovascular drugmaker to an oncology biologics company. The shift to oncology is part of the company's 2025 business plan, a transition that has scored at least one major approval so far with more in the wings.

Daiichi and AstraZeneca’s HER2-targeting med Enhertu launched in January—approved as a third-line metastatic breast cancer treatment—and it last month nabbed an FDA priority review for HER2-positive, metastatic gastric or gastroesophageal junction cancer, with a decision date set for early next year.

The realignment with the new unit is necessary considering the pace of the oncology market. Daiichi plans to rack up four or five indications over the next few years, making speed, efficiency and synergy more important than ever, Keller said.

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It was also important to Daiichi to make sure the business unit lined up with research from the very beginning of drug development because “in oncology, it’s all about the clinical data, that’s what moves the market,” Keller said.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced changes—Enhertu launched shortly before shutdowns began—but Daiichi learned lessons it can take into the future, including how to gain access to oncologists and how to create effective digital communications and virtual educational opportunities, he said.

“Even with vaccines coming, the world won’t go back to the way it was,” Keller said. “We are likely never going back to our offices five days a week in Basking Ridge. It’s been a forced experiment, but it’s been working fantastically.”