Astellas eyes cancer drugs to stabilize profit picture

Banking on a strong future for cancer drug sales, Japan's Astellas Pharma aims to make its young oncology business one of its four main sources of profit by 2020, the company's chief executive, Yoshihiko Hatanaka, told Reuters.

"We expect to see cancer drugs join transplantation, immunization and urology as an equivalent profit pillar," Hatanaka said in an interview with the news service. "In the current midterm business plan that goes until [the business year] 2014 we have put the priority on investment [in cancer drugs] with the expectation that over the next five years or so, 2015 through 2019, we will see bigger sales and profits," he also noted.

Astellas, the second-largest drug firm in Japan after Takeda Pharmaceutical, made inroads growing its oncology business last year with the $4 billion buyout of OSI Pharmaceuticals, the developer of lung and pancreatic cancer drug Tarceva (erlotinib). OSI also fueled Astellas' pipeline of experimental cancer drugs, and Reuters reports the Japanese company now has 5 of its 15 cancer drug candidates in late-stage development, as well as one pending approval.

Astellas Venture Management, the company's venture arm, was also noted last week as a new backer of Cambridge, MA-based Verastem, a start-up founded by biotech vets to advance drugs against cancer stem cells. The venture unit makes investments and seeks partnerships for its parent, according to its website.

- read the Reuters article