Amgen wades deeper into Asia with full control of an Astellas Japanese JV

amgen
Amgen is purchasing the remaining 49% share it doesn’t yet have in a Japanese joint venture it formed with Astellas in 2013. (Amgen)

Seven years into a strategic alliance in Japan with Astellas Pharma, Amgen is taking on full control of the local business as the Big Biotech bets more on the rapidly growing Asian market.

Amgen will purchase the remaining 49% shares it doesn’t yet have in Amgen Astellas BioPharma—a Japanese joint venture it formed with Astellas in 2013—on April 1, 2020, the pair announced (PDF) Thursday. After that, the entity will become Amgen K.K., a wholly owned Amgen affiliate, and will move its headquarters to Tokyo Midtown.

The move comes on the heels of a $2.7 billion BeiGene tie-up, a large part of which also ends seven years after commercialization. Together, they represent Amgen’s growing interest in the Asia market, from which it’s expecting 25% of growth in the next decade.

Currently, the Japanese JV is responsible for selling PCSK9 heart drug Repatha, leukemia therapy Blincyto and osteoporosis med Evenity. Moving forward, Amgen and Astellas will continue to co-promote these drugs, with Astellas responsible for distribution and sales. As for Amgen K.K., it will focus on bringing the company’s remaining innovative medicines to Japan.

Financial terms were not disclosed. Amgen didn’t immediately respond to a FiercePharma request by publication time.

The move isn’t unexpected; eventually becoming the business’ sole owner was Amgen’s plan when it unveiled the partnership in 2013. Over the years, the business “has grown into an organization with over 600 employees and comprehensive functions to be fully operational as a marketing authorization holder in Japan,” the companies said.

It follows closely a cancer-focused team-up Amgen established with BeiGene in China. The two deals bear some resemblance. In the BeiGene deal, the Chinese biotech will commercialize Xgeva, Kyprolis and Blincyto in its home country. It will have the right to retain one product but will return rights to the other two after five years and seven years respectively.

RELATED: With cancer kickoff, Amgen bets on BeiGene's fast-growing Chinese salesforce

The pair will also collaborate on developing 20 oncology pipeline assets, to which BeiGene will oversee selling in China for—you guessed it—seven years. Beyond that point, BeiGene can keep up to six of those products. In exchange, Amgen is paying $2.7 billion to acquire a 20.5% stake in BeiGene.

Just as Amgen was leveraging Astellas’ commercial and regulatory knowledge in Japan before learning the ropes to run the show on its own seven years later, the BeiGene pact is meant to tap the company’s oncology knowhow and fast-growing local sales force to gain access to China.

The Astellas JV buyout also follows shortly the unit folding in the local Otezla business from Celgene by establishing a new inflammation and immunology business unit.

Astellas isn’t the only company Amgen has teamed up with in Japan. In early 2018, Amgen paid Kirin Holdings $780 million to gain full control of Kirin-Amgen, a formerly 50-50 JV founded in 1984, just four years after Amgen’s establishment in Thousand Oaks, California. That JV was actually the intellectual property holder for many popular Amgen drugs, including anemia med Epogen, as well as Neupogen and Neulasta, among others.

RELATED: The top 15 pharma companies by 2018 revenue - 11. Amgen

So far, Amgen is deeply reliant on the U.S. market, which made up 77% of its total sales in 2018. But it’s among a growing number of multinationals counting on Asia for growth. The company’s expecting 25% of its growth to come from Asia in the next decade, CEO Robert Bradway told Reuters on the sidelines of the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference.

“China and Japan are the second and third largest markets in our industry,” Bradway said. “In the case of China, it is a rapidly growing market. ... Japan has an aging population and we expect that will be a growth market for us.”

He said the Astellas JV is indeed what inspired the BeiGene partnership—to “work on a basket of drugs together, then after a period of time, the rights would return to us.

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