Advancing efforts to fight COVID-19 in Japan | Takeda Stories

Vials production line

Honoring our Japanese heritage and advancing efforts to fight COVID-19

January 26, 2022

Learn about the history and evolution of Takeda’s commitments to address some of the world’s most challenging infectious diseases, including COVID-19, featuring Masayuki Imagawa, head of the Japan Vaccine Business Unit.

Although Takeda’s Global Vaccine Business Unit wasn’t officially established until 2012, we have a 70-year history of supplying vaccines to protect the health of people in Japan. This long and important heritage combined with the technical expertise and knowledge of handling bacteria and virus, large scale manufacturing capabilities and infrastructure makes us uniquely equipped to help deliver on both the short- and long-term vaccine supply needs for not only traditional infectious diseases but also pandemic control and preparedness in Japan.

“We’re proud to be able to help deliver the COVID-19 vaccine quickly to the Japanese public,” said Masayuki Imagawa, head of the Japan Vaccine Business Unit.

The history of our commitment to Japan

Our manufacturing plant in Hikari first began operations at the end of World War II. As the plant construction progressed, we started developing a typhus vaccine at the request of the government. Vaccine development was not easy during this time, as there was an extreme shortage of supply in raw materials. On the morning of January 5, 1947, the first lot of typhus vaccines was shipped out as the very first product produced at the Hikari plant. This was accomplished less than a year after receiving the request from the government and only a year and five months after the end of World War II.

Established in 2012, our Global Vaccine Business Unit focuses on applying innovation to tackle some of the world’s most challenging infectious diseases, such as dengue, COVID-19, pandemic influenza (H5N1 & Prototype) and Zika.

“We’re currently developing vaccines for infectious diseases with high unmet medical needs not only in Japan, but also globally to help children and adults at risk from infectious diseases,” said Masayuki. “We’ve been developing this business from the perspective of providing a stable supply of such vaccines to the Japanese public, fully leveraging our scale and trust. But it’s impossible to speak about vaccine development in Japan without mentioning vaccines against the novel coronavirus.”

Building our COVID-19 vaccine partnerships

Consistent with our values and heritage, Takeda partnered with the  Government of Japan’s Ministry of Health Labour and  Welfare (MHLW) and global vaccine developers to rapidly  and sustainably supply COVID-19 vaccines in Japan.

“This is not to say that Takeda cannot develop a new coronavirus vaccine,” said Masayuki. “Of course we can, but it would have taken time. We thought that the most significant contribution to Japanese society would be to look around the world and see what good products are being developed and help introduce them to Japan as soon as possible.”

As part of a three-way partnership with MHLW and Moderna, we’re committed to importing and distributing a total of 143 million doses of Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, which was  approved in Japan on May 21, 2021. Fifty million doses have already been distributed in 2021, with the aim to distribute an additional 93 million doses in 2022. We also entered into a collaboration  with  Novavax  to develop, manufacture and commercialize  Novavax’ COVID-19 vaccine candidate  in Japan. Takeda recently announced the submission of a New Drug Application (NDA) to MHLW for the vaccine. We chose to partner with Moderna and Novavax in the first half of 2020, in part due to the promising science and early-stage clinical findings available at the time.

“This may sound self-congratulatory, but I think this was a visionary move,” said Masayuki. “At that time, there was a lot of uncertainty involved with development being undertaken by any company. We didn't know if any of the vaccine candidates would succeed. I think this is where our Global Vaccine Business Unit has a good eye.”

Lessons learned and looking ahead

“The world has changed, hasn't it?” noted Masayuki, remarking on how a more globalized world heightens the need to raise awareness of the dangers of infectious diseases and prepare for future outbreaks or pandemics. “I think that will give us the opportunity to strengthen the drug discovery capabilities of future research and enhance production facilities.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the biopharmaceutical industry has mobilized behind a singular mission for the greater good, which has set a new standard for the degree and scale of collaboration possible to foster innovation and swift scientific progress. On the vaccine front, Takeda remains committed to its current partnerships to help deliver safe and effective vaccines in Japan to help with the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Helping provide vaccines to protect Japan against COVID-19 is a national project that will go down in history.”

Masayuki Imagawa
Masayuki Imagawa has been head of the Japan Vaccine Business Unit, Global Vaccine Business Unit, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. since October 1, 2020. He has been the acting chief executive of the Japan Association of Vaccine Industries in June 2020, and has also served as acting board member of the Public Foundation of the Vaccine Research Centre since June 2018. He holds a master’s degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the Tokushima University in 1994 and a Master of Business Administration from the Kobe University in 2006 respectively.