Why entrepreneurship matters for the scientific innovators of tomorrow

Authored by: Tadaaki Taniguchi, Chief Medical Officer and Head of Medical and Development, Astellas Pharma Inc

In the last decade, we have seen unprecedented progress in therapeutics, thanks to scientific advancement, new technologies and a growing understanding of disease biology – with immunotherapy, precision medicine, vaccines and cell and gene therapy delivering some of the most notable breakthroughs.

With rapid R&D innovation bringing an increasing number of new treatment options, in turn leading to longer life expectancies and improved health outcomes, we must continue to set the bar higher, with heightened urgency to bring life-changing medicines to patients, sooner.

But how do we deliver on this?

I believe entrepreneurship – defined by Harvard Business School as “the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled1” – is critical for drug discovery and development in today’s constantly evolving scientific and technological landscape.

The potential to redefine patient care in our dynamic and challenging drug discovery field is immense, but to make this a reality, we must adapt and reshape our behaviors and approaches. If we don’t, we risk falling behind, or worse, letting down the patients we aim to serve.

Creating the environment for innovation to thrive

Critical to enabling innovation is evolving our approach to R&D and fostering a more entrepreneurial mindset. This starts with organizational culture and workplace environment. Many companies are moving away from a traditional, hierarchical structure with siloed functions, recognizing its limitations in early adoption of innovation and for facilitating change.

At Astellas, we recently evolved our R&D operating model to streamline decision-making and empower individual teams, with the goal of accelerating progress across our pipeline to meet patients’ needs with greater urgency. By simplifying governance and ensuring people at all levels of our organization feel accountable, we’re building an environment where cross-functional networks of teams with shared goals can collaborate with agility and flexibility. Ultimately, these changes will help us become a more innovative, agile and sustainable organization, one that is open and networked, comfortable with intelligent risk-taking and able to move quickly to recognize and harness opportunities. In short, we are focused on creating the right culture for creativity and entrepreneurship to thrive.

The rise of the scientific entrepreneur

A more entrepreneurial mindset must also extend to talent development. As part of our R&D operating model evolution, we emphasize individual behaviors needed to accelerate innovation that go beyond technical expertise. Individual leaders are encouraged and empowered to bring forward new ideas, learn from failure and make informed decisions faster. While this way of thinking may not come naturally to everyone, a growth mindset and “challenger spirit” are essential in today’s environment.

I personally believe creativity's role in scientific innovation and drug development is often undervalued. Breakthroughs in understanding come from novel ideas, connecting seemingly disparate fields and taking calculated risks. For Astellas, this type of entrepreneurship is crucial. We are advancing novel modalities that could give patients new and better treatment options or unlock currently “undruggable” targets, from cell and gene therapies, targeted protein degradation, direct reprogramming for degenerative diseases and bispecific immune cell engagers to target cancer cells. These rapidly evolving areas of medicine require constant learning and adapting to push the boundaries of what’s possible for patients.

As part of this, in my role as Chief Medical Officer, one of my key priorities is to encourage teams to challenge conventional thinking – to be bold in their approach to innovation and consistently ask themselves, “What can we do better?” My goal is to deeply instil this critical way of thinking into everything we do, so we can continue to advance the best science and deliver valued therapeutics.

Unlocking the future of R&D

More than ever, I am convinced new levels of creativity and proactivity are needed to bring next-generation therapies to patients. Entrepreneurship is not only an important philosophy for innovation but a sought-after skill and mindset – one that guides our new R&D operating model at Astellas and our approach to attracting, retaining and developing talent.

As we look to the future, emphasizing and rewarding creativity, risk-taking and problem-solving – while  providing a safe and collaborative environment – will play a fundamental role in accelerating the development of breakthrough treatments and addressing some of the most urgent health challenges facing our world today.

Changing tomorrow: Join us and turn innovative science into VALUE for patients


1HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW. Entrepreneurship: A Working Definition. Available at: Last accessed March 2023.

The editorial staff had no role in this post's creation.