J&J, AstraZeneca take Zytiga to Japan

Japan has become one of the hot drug markets, and Johnson & Johnson has decided to partner up with AstraZeneca to take its hot cancer drug abiraterone acetate (Zytiga) there. AstraZeneca ($AZN) is working with J&J's ($JNJ) Janssen Pharmaceuticals K. K. subsidiary, which in July submitted an application for the drug's use there.

Noting that Japan is one of the world's fastest-growing pharmaceutical markets, Marc Dunoyer, AstraZeneca's executive vice president of global products and portfolio strategy said: "This deal is a strong strategic fit for AstraZeneca, reinforcing both our focus on oncology as a core therapy area and Japan as one of our key growth drivers."

Currently, castration is the primary medical option open to patients with prostate cancer in Japan, but AstraZeneca points out that it's not always effective. Abiraterone acetate, marketed in the U.S. and EU as Zytiga, was approved by the FDA in 2011 and the EU in 2012 for the treatment of patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer.

The drug has been fast out of the gates, scooping up market share from competitors. The drug works by interfering with testosterone, a prostate-cancer cell stimulant. Its survival stats are about the same as those of competitor Provenge from Dendreon ($DNDN), but it is an oral medication, not an injection like Provenge, and eases cancer-related pain faster. Its April 2011 FDA approval for use in patients who've received chemotherapy came two months ahead of schedule, indicating that the FDA wanted it on the market as quickly as possible. The FDA approved it as first-line treatment last December after data showed it could add 5 months to the median survival period. It was one of the stars of J&J's second quarter, having sold $739 million in the first half of 2013. That put it in line to hit blockbuster status this year.

The Japanese market is becoming more important to drugmakers as an aging population and a more receptive healthcare market are setting the stage for greater sales. Japan has become increasingly attractive to multinational drugmakers as U.S. sales stagnate and European price cuts actually undermine growth there. AstraZeneca is one of the companies that has been struggling in the face of these obstacles. Much of the attention in Japan will be on generics as an increasingly cost-conscious government works to ratchet up use of cheaper copycats, but the country has also been approving new treatments it has not had before.

Novartis ($NVS) last month got approval in both Europe and Japan for its new chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) drug, Ultibro Breezhaler. Pfizer ($PFE) and Mylan ($MYL) in August struck a deal to sell 350 branded generics in Japan.

- here's the announcement

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