Months after leading Kite Pharma to a landmark OK and establishing the first-ever commercial CAR-T portfolio, global development head Ken Takeshita vaguely announced he was leaving the helm for another opportunity. Now we know what he’s been up to.
Takeshita is jumping over to Daiichi Sankyo on April 1, where he’ll lead the company’s push to become an established oncology player as global head of R&D. He’s filling the shoes of Junichi Koga, who’s retiring after 12 years at the company.
“We are thrilled to welcome Ken into the Daiichi Sankyo family to lead global R&D in our continued transformation into a global oncology leader and to pursue world-class science and technology,” CEO Sunao Manabe said in a statement. “Ken brings remarkable depth and breadth of experience to our organization – from first-hand patient care to overseeing more than 20 registrational trials leading to many regulatory approvals.”
Takeshita spent the last two years at Kite, steering the company to an approval for Tecartus in relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma back in July. He’s passing the torch to Takeda vet Frank Neumann, just as the FDA is set to make a decision on Kite’s supplemental BLA for three-year-old Yescarta in follicular lymphoma (FL) and marginal zone lymphoma (MZL).
Manabe has laid out big plans to solidify Daiichi Sankyo’s place in the cancer space by 2025, with the main focus on their billion-dollar ADC Enhertu. The AstraZeneca-partnered drug, which was already approved in the US for third-line metastatic breast cancer patients, snagged a second approval in gastric cancer last month.
“DS-8201 (Enhertu) and our ADC technology are currently visible, but they are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Daiichi Sankyo’s R&D capabilities with science and technology running throughout them,” Manabe wrote in the company’s 2019 value report. The CEO named gene therapy, next-gen ADCs and bispecific antibodies as potential areas of growth.
Daiichi jumped into the gene therapy space less than a year ago, when it dropped $200 million to access Ultragenyx’s manufacturing technology. For $125 million in cash and a $75 million equity investment, Daiichi Sankyo bought a non-exclusive license to the IP around two platforms with which it plans to develop AAV-based gene therapy products.
“We are currently doing discovery research for gene therapy drugs using AAV vectors as one of our focused modalities toward sustained growth beyond achievement of our 2025 vision,” Masayuki Yabuta, Daiichi Sankyo’s head of biologics, said at the time.
Takeshita is taking over from Koga, who took the job amid an R&D shakeup back in 2019. A couple of years prior, Daiichi Sankyo shuttered a couple of large research groups in India and Japan, laying off hundreds of staffers and redistributing their work.
“I have watched Daiichi Sankyo build and grow with admiration,” Takeshita said. “I am honored to join the Daiichi Sankyo R&D organization to seek to extend and improve lives of patients and eliminate cancer altogether.”