Updated March 25 at 6:25am

Amgen, Astellas to develop cancer, bone treatments in Japan


WASHINGTON - Amgen Inc., one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies by sales, announced a partnership with Japanese drugmaker Astellas Pharma Inc. to bring five of its experimental therapies to market in that country.

The companies will create a venture called Amgen Astellas BioPharma KK that will become an Amgen subsidiary as early as 2020, Amgen and Astellas said today in a statement. The venture will seek to gain regulatory approval in Japan for medicines to treat high cholesterol, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, leukemia and lymphoma.

Amgen, which has a production facility in West Greenwich, is developing new products and expanding its business outside the U.S. as sales decline for its anemia drugs Aranesp and Epogen. While most large U.S. drugmakers get about half of their revenue from oversees, Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., got just 22 percent in 2012. The biotechnology company’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Bradway, who took the helm in 2012, is looking to change that balance with plans to expand in 75 markets including Japan, China and Brazil.

“This is consistent with our desire to globalize and this is a very, very important step for us in that progression,” Bradway said in a telephone interview. “This is a clear, tangible step in the direction of Amgen having its own presence in the world’s second-largest pharmaceutical market.”

Unmet needs

Yoshihiko Hatanaka, president and CEO of Tokyo-based Astellas, said the alliance “will strengthen our pipeline to address unmet medical needs, as well as enable us to obtain growth drivers.”

Astellas jumped as much as 3.2 percent to 5,500 yen in Tokyo and closed 1.9 percent higher at 5,430 yen. The stock has surged 76 percent in the past 12 months. Amgen gained less than 1 percent to $106.20 at the close yesterday in New York. The company has advanced 53 percent in the past 12 months.

Amgen executives have signaled they were looking for partners in Asia. Arvind Sood, the company’s vice president of investor relations, said at a March conference headed by investment firm Cowen & Co. of Boston that Amgen saw a “tremendous amount of unmet medical need in the Asian markets” for products to treat gastric cancer, in particular.

One reason 33-year-old Amgen hasn’t expanded globally sooner is because of the complexity of manufacturing and distributing its biologic-based products, Bradway said. Unlike most drugmakers, which sell chemically-based pills, Amgen’s products are manufactured from living organisms, must be stored in specific conditions, and are injected rather than swallowed.

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