In 2005, Japan’s big drug firm Takeda acquired a company in North America for the first time. That company was Syrrx, a private San Diego-based biotech that used X-ray crystallography to help determine the structures of disease-related molecules so drugs could be designed to target them.
Now, 14 years and multiple other acquisitions of North America-based companies later, the company has moved its San Diego employees—many of them staff gained through those various deals—into a new, custom-built R&D center. More than 90 percent of them are researchers. The site is one of three the company has worldwide: Its other research centers are in Boston and in Japan’s Kanagawa, a prefecture about 30 miles south of Tokyo.
The site lead? The former general counsel of Syrrx, David Weitz.
“We’ve transitioned from being a site of discrete origin to being a true melting pot,” Weitz said. “Our lineage is from multiple companies and, additionally, from the world-class talent we’ve drawn in as well.”
Weitz isn’t the only executive at Takeda who has remained with the company for years after joining it as part of a biotech acquisition. Takeda’s global head of research, Steve Hitchcock, who led the San Diego site before Weitz, was formerly chief scientific officer at Envoy Therapeutics, a Jupiter, Florida-based CNS drug developer. Takeda acquired the company in 2012 and relocated its operations to San Diego.
And Mike Martin, president of Takeda Ventures, the company’s corporate venture capital arm, was previously with Intellikine, another San Diego-based company acquired by Takeda.
“This building transcends all those origins,” Weitz said.
Weitz, who helped to design the new site, said he wanted to imbue the three-story, 165,000-square-foot building with a biotech-style feeling of collaboration to inspire both its 250-plus workers and visitors. (Takeda has more than 200 partnerships with biotechs, research institutes, and academic centers.) Visitors to the site, home to about 15 percent of Takeda’s global R&D workforce, can access its cafeteria and a handful of meeting spaces without entering the secure areas of the campus.
While the building is dotted with conference rooms, it has an open floor plan rather than traditional offices, and the exterior walls are glass—a design decision meant to symbolize the company’s openness to external collaboration.
“Our reward systems here are agnostic as to where the science gets done, so teams are rewarded for advancing the science and actually encouraged to use the external network to the greatest extent possible,” Hitchcock said. “If you really want to be driving as much value for patients as possible, you’ve got to be completely open-minded about where innovation comes from, because it’s happening all over the world, and if you are vain enough to think you have a monopoly on innovation within your company, you’re wrong.”
Nearly 50 percent of Takeda’s research funding, including its equity investments, goes toward its external partnerships, he added. That includes $35M that Takeda Ventures has invested in biotech startups in Southern California, including La Jolla, CA-based Avidity Biosciences.
During the past four years, Hitchcock has worked with Andy Plump, president of Takeda R&D, to broaden the company’s research pipeline beyond small molecule drugs, which at the beginning of that time made up 85 percent of its efforts. Today 70 percent of its pipeline is outside of small molecule drugs, according to the company.
Of the company’s four areas of R&D—gastroenterology, neuroscience, oncology and rare diseases—its scientists in San Diego focus on GI research and on neuroscience, primarily neuropsychiatry. (Takeda’s team in Japan leads its neurodegenerative disease studies.) San Diego is also home to structural biology and biophysics, computational biology, early target discovery, and biologics research groups.
Takeda moved its San Diego team, which had been spread across two buildings, into the new research center in January. Weitz said he doesn’t anticipate operations at the site will be affected by the ongoing integration of rare disease drug maker Shire, a Dublin, Ireland-based company that Takeda recently acquired for $62 billion.