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Post-COVID, there will be a mix of various working models

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Koki Sato, Country Head and GM, Takeda India talks about the company’s recent drug launch in India, its plans for the Indian market, the impact of COVID-19 on Takeda as well as the pharma sector and more, in interaction with Sanjiv Das

Takeda recently launched Kynteles for ulcerative colitis. How is the launch going to bring in a change in the gastrointestinal drug market?

With an estimated disease burden of 1.1 million Ulcerative Colitis (UC) patients and 0.3 million Crohn’s Disease (CD) patients in India, the market is in need of continuous innovation within therapies that help address inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). With the launch of Vedolizumab (Kynteles), we aim to address the treatment gap for IBD patients as it is the only gut-selective biologic available in the country.

The UC and CD adult patients who have had an inadequate response or were intolerant to either conventional therapy or were tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) antagonist will potentially benefit from this new line of treatment. Its efficacy and integrated safety profile from clinical trials have been built based on more than 415,000 collective patient-years of exposure. Kynteles has a proven safety profile that makes it conducive for long- term treatment.

What will be your other growth plans for the Indian market?

We are building a robust product pipeline across therapeutic areas to strengthen Takeda’s commitment to patients for better health and a brighter future. We are committed to bringing our innovative therapies to patients, which will help them live a considerably improved quality of life. With the acquisition of Shire, Takeda has been able to augment this vision in India. We now have our patient offerings across portfolios like gastrointestinal (GI), rare diseases (haemophilia and lysosomal storage disorders), and plasma-derived therapies.

Understanding the unmet needs of patients in the country, we explore various possibilities of expanding our portfolio under the existing therapy areas while also bringing in newer portfolios. Over the next two to five years, we intend to bring innovative products under our haematology and immunology portfolios.

What has been the COVID-19 impact on Takeda’s business globally and in the Indian market?

Our response to the coronavirus outbreak is guided by our values of Takeda-ism and patient-trust-reputation-business. In short, we are doing everything we can to protect our employees and their families, while also working to best support our patients, communities, and importantly, the healthcare providers upon which so many rely. Due to the increasing burden on our healthcare system and providers as they cope with the evolving situation related to COVID-19, Takeda’s guidance for customer-facing employees is to step away from healthcare sites and provide support virtually. We believe that this is the best way to support our patients and staff, communities, and healthcare providers.

From a supply chain point of view, Takeda’s strategy is to secure product supply continuity for patients by managing adequate inventory levels and/or alternative suppliers to produce our medicines. Based on current assessments of our global supply chain, we anticipate minimal disruption for the near-term due to the coronavirus outbreak. Longer-term, it is not yet possible to predict precisely what the impact may be on individual products. We will continue to monitor the situation as it evolves and take all necessary actions to ensure supply continuity for the people we serve.

What major transformations do you foresee in the pharma sector post-pandemic?

As we emerge from this pandemic, the ‘new normal’ will become the way of operating businesses across industries. The use of technology and digital engagements will become furthermore prevalent to stay connected in the virtual world. I believe new ways of working are evolving, giving flexibility to employees while maximising productivity. Since the lockdown, nearly the whole world has been working from home. Post-COVID, there will be a healthy mix of various working models, and pharma companies will adapt to that.

What measures have the company taken to protect its employees from COVID-19 pandemic, and to keep up the supply of medicines?

We have adjusted our business approach as a result of this outbreak. Along with protecting our employees, we are taking conscious efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus and reduce the epidemic burden on the general healthcare system. As per Takeda’s global advisory, our telework guidance applies to all our colleagues, including our customer-facing employees– especially those who interact with healthcare professionals. Technology is critical now more than ever. Our employees are technologically savvy and able to stay connected and work productively from home or other locations. We are encouraging our people to conduct their meetings virtually using the array of technology tools we have available. We are taking additional measures in every market as per the local laws and directives to ensure our employees’ safety while maintaining business continuity and access to therapy for patients.

Do you plan to launch any new drugs to fight the COVID-19 pandemic?

Takeda and other world-leading plasma companies have come together to focus on developing a hyperimmune globulin in the global fight against COVID-19 through CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance. The CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance is an initiative to accelerate the development of a potential treatment for COVID-19.

Recently Takeda Pharma inked a research agreement with CARMINE Therapeutics. Tell us more about the deal.

This research collaboration seeks to discover, develop, and commercialise transformative non-viral gene therapies for two rare disease targets using Carmine’s REGENT technology that is based on red blood cell extracellular vesicles.

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