Astellas goes 'aggressive,' elevating chief strategy officer Naoki Okamura to replace CEO Kenji Yasukawa

In five years under Kenji Yasukawa, Astellas had a successful rebound after revenues bottomed out in 2020. Now, the company has tapped (PDF) company veteran Naoki Okamura to lead its next transformational phase.

Okamura, who has served at Astellas for 37 years, has earned a promotion from chief strategy officer to CEO, while Yasukawa, 60, takes over as chairman of the board. The moves kick in on April 1, the company announced on Monday, along with presenting its quarterly earnings.

“Fiscal year 2023 is the right time to go on the aggressive to further accelerate growth,” Astellas said in a release.

Adam Pearson, currently executive VP of corporate strategy, will move into Okamura’s role, while Claus Zieler takes over as chief commercial officer.

As chief strategy officer, Okamura, 57, was at the center of deals in 2019 to acquire gene therapy specialist Audentes for $3 billion and CAR-T biotech Xyphos for $665 million. He also helped strike two licensing deals last month, including one with Selecta Biosciences for Xork, a companion drug with Astellas’ investigational Pompe disease gene therapy AT845.

The Audentes deal has not produced dividends so far as a neuromuscular disease therapy acquired in the deal was linked to deaths. Meanwhile the FDA put a hold on the Pompe disease therapy, which was just lifted last month.

Under Yasukawa, Astellas moved away from a focus on specific disease areas to a “multifaceted perspective,” and made “progress in developing new drug candidates that will drive future revenue,” the company said.

Astellas also restructured under Yasukawa, closing down sales, R&D and marketing units and laying off 600 employees in Japan in 2018. Another of his initial moves was to divest another outfit, Analytical Science Laboratories to Eurofins Pharma Services.

Astellas’ reported (PDF) revenue for the trailing nine months at 1.16 trillion yen ($8.8 billion), which was a 17% increase on the same period a year earlier.

The company’s biggest seller, prostate cancer treatment Xtandi pulled in 512 billion yen ($3.9 billion) over the previous nine months, which was a 24% increase on the same period in 2021. The Pfizer-partnered drug loses its patent protection in 2026.

Seagen-partnered bladder cancer treatment Padcev realized sales of 33 billion yen ($249 million), up 127%, and blood cancer drug Xospata generated sales of 36 billion yen ($272 million) in the previous nine months, up 41%.