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Ohara: Making headways in pediatric cancer care

Interview - December 24, 2020

One of Japan’s leading innovator in the area of oncology, Ohara Pharmaceutical aim to develop therapies for approximately 60% of the 50 types of pediatric cancer and is developing six new drugs to treat childhood cancers. In this interview, CEO Seiji Ohara explains how development of these pipeline products is driven by strategic alliances with several innovative global partners – for example, in the field of brain tumors, the company has a strategic alliance with Oncoceutics Inc. “Accelerating innovation through networks will continue to be our company's strength, and we look forward to expanding out network throughout the world to bring innovative treatment alternatives for pediatric cancer patients,” he explains.


Please tell us how you will contribute to Society 5.0 and how Ohara Pharmaceutical will contribute to making our lives more comfortable.

Under society 4.0, substantial amounts of information and data continue to be generated and shared through the proliferation of cloud-based systems and other technologies. We believe the spread of AI, robots, and telework systems through Society 5.0 will further improve efficiencies and convenience, leading to significant added value to the healthcare industry. For example, the use of big data with AI to develop tailor-made medical care, and using robots to support nursing care in an aging society such as Japan would be wonderful.

Historically, pharmaceutical companies have been collecting information on adverse drug reactions and analyzing them to ensure their products meet key safety thresholds. By collecting and analyzing information with AI, we can directly link the science and disease to enable the creation of total healthcare solutions, an initiative that Ohara has already commenced in collaboration with a leading physician in Japan to identify solutions, e.g. for Parkinson’s disease.

Orphan drugs, which are typically challenging to develop due to the limited number of patients in a given number regions to confirm efficacy and safety, will likely become more feasible in a Society 5.0 as we may be able to develop them in a broader global network and dataset. We believe that the culmination of such efforts enable innovation which can provide solutions to more diverse medical needs in society, leading to highly personalized medicine.


How do you plan to leverage the growth of the pharmaceutical industry?

In the 20th century, the pharmaceutical industry largely grew through the development of blockbuster products. Today, great scientific progress has led to numerous innovations, including the introduction of many breakthrough treatment options for orphan diseases. These treatment options continue to give hope to many patients. Science has made great strides under Society 5.0, with the genetic approach that began with the Human Genome Project having come to the point where it is possible to identify the driving mutations that cause individual diseases.  As we have seen, treatments targeting such mutation-positive diseases have demonstrated impressive therapeutic efficacy. Armed with an in-depth understanding of the science behind the disease, I expect many more therapies to be developed at an accelerated pace in the near future.

Innovation in the pharmaceutical industry to target intractable and orphan diseases brings hope to many patients. Support from the government and society is also critical in the creation of such therapies. With such support, and in collaboration with companies that share the same vision and aspiration as us, we hope to provide treatments that saves lives. In particular, we aim to be the most reliable partner of patients and healthcare professionals for pediatric cancer drugs.


What role does R&D play in your company?

The first and foremost reason why we decided to develop treatments for pediatric cancer is our commitment to society. This is our company's philosophy. First priority is not sales, profits, or the size of the company, but being a healthcare company that can contribute to society by saving patient lives.

For pediatric cancer, unlike adult cancer, the chemotherapeutic approach has been superior both in terms of efficacy and cost. Through the efforts of physicians and the medical community, the treatment outcome for pediatric hematological cancer has improved greatly. When we built our R&D pipeline from a science-based perspective with a view to enriching treatment options for pediatric cancer, we starting with pediatric hematological cancer, then expanded to solid tumors. Today, we are aiming to develop therapies for approximately 60% of the 50 types of pediatric cancer.

The development of these pipeline products is driven by strategic alliances with a number of innovative global partners, many of whom are start-ups with excellent science and enthusiasm.

For products in other therapeutic areas such as ATL and Parkinson’s disease, as well as for nucleic acid drugs, we are conducting our own research to develop our in-house products.  Through cutting-edge technology, we look forward to creating a platform for the future.

Collaborations with local Japanese start-ups will also be an opportunity to challenge other unmet medical needs, with Ohara providing support and resources (e.g. Chemistry,Manufacturing and Control, intellectual property etc.) that such start-ups at times lack, creating a mutually beneficial win-win partnership.


What is your global strategy?

I mentioned that we are already developing pediatric cancer with many global partners, but we will continue to actively pursue strategic alliances with companies including start-ups who are actively developing treatment alternatives for pediatric cancer and related fields, such as hematological cancer.

For example, in the field of brain tumors, we have entered into a strategic alliance with Oncoceutics Inc., an innovative clinical stage company in the United States, to form a strategic and capital alliance to develop innovative treatment. We are keen to work with other similar companies that are driven to develop advanced, innovative treatment options in these therapeutic areas, where Ohara can lead the development in Japan and the rest of Asia. 

At the same time, we have new drugs in our development pipeline for hepatic and biliary diseases. These drugs have been discovered by Japanese biotechnology companies with innovative technology and we are excited to develop them to meet high unmet medical needs in these diseases. In addition to promising new drugs such as OP-724 (discovered by PRISM Bio lab), which resolves fibrosis in liver, and JPH203 (discovered by J Pharma), a biliary tract cancer drug with a novel mechanism of action, we are working on a novel oral administration drug for Myelodysplastic syndromes. In order to confirm the efficacy and safety for products treating these types of diseases, cooperation from a large number of patients will be required to perform clinical studies. For these developments, we are looking to collaborate with like-minded companies in China to expedite clinical development in Asia, such that we can offer new therapies from Asia to the World.

Considering the world's population in 2050, we are also focusing on Nigeria, a country that is expected to have the largest population in Africa and the third largest in the world by 2050.  Ohara is looking ahead, and have already entered into a strategic alliance with the top local pharmaceutical company in Nigeria. Our company's global vision for the future has already begun.


What are the main competitive advantages?

As I mentioned as part of our strategy for pediatric oncology development, we have built our pediatric oncology pipeline the formation of individual strategic alliances. Some people are surprised at the number of pipeline products we have at our scale of operations, but this is enabled through our company's business model “Networks”, where we aim to drive innovation through our networks.

For example, in our generic drug business, we formed strategic capital alliances with three global Japanese trading companies in 2001 to build a global information network. As a result, we were able to track and understand global trends for APIs, which is critical for generic drug development, and to promote development in Japan.

Furthermore, as there are slight differences in pharmacopoeia and test methods in each country, the dosage form and packaging required for pharmaceutical products differ from country to country, and there are many unique requirements in Japan.

Our company has established a local demand network in Japan to plan dosage forms and packaging in response to the needs of dispensing sites. For examples, strategic alliances with dispensing pharmacies and pharmaceutical wholesalers enabled us to understand the needs of healthcare providers and patients, which led us to develop the double-sided printing of the product name and content on each tablet, as well as packaging with codes which enable immediate access to electronic package inserts. Ohara and our partner companies led these initiatives in Japan, which have now become recognized as the de facto standard for the Japanese market.

Accelerating innovation through networks will continue to be our company's strength, and we look forward to expanding out network throughout the world to bring innovative treatment alternatives for pediatric cancer patients. We are also excited to work with Chinese companies to expedite the clinical development of our own innovative drugs such as OP -724, JPH 203, and oral MDS drug, which we hope to be able to provide to and beyond our existing networks in the US, Europe, Asia and Africa. We look forward to meeting and entering into alliances with highly motivated companies with cutting-edge technologies.