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Pursuing Cancer Immunology Drug Discovery Research at Takeda’s Research Center in Boston

After surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, a fourth method of treating cancer is gaining increasing attention: immunotherapy. At Takeda’s research center in Boston, a large team of researchers is working hard to develop new treatments based on this cutting-edge approach.

A path that led from Shonan to Boston

When I joined Takeda, I worked at Shonan Research Center (SRC, currently Shonan Health Innovation Park [iPark]) in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo, studying the effects of drugs in projects focused on developing treatments for autoimmune diseases. Four years later, following a reorganization of the company’s research operations, the focus at SRC was narrowed to concentrate on neuroscience and regenerative medicine, while gastroenterology and cancer research was consolidated in Takeda’s labs in Boston. It was then that an opportunity arose for some researchers to transfer to Boston, and as soon as the in-house recruitment began, I put my name forward. I was fortunate enough to be selected and in 2017 relocated here.

My research now is focused on developing immunotherapy treatments for cancer, an area which recently has been attracting a lot of attention. Put simply, with immunotherapy the body’s immune system is activated to attack cancer cells. I’d actually chosen to study immunology in university because I wanted a career in which I could develop new treatments, and with the body’s immune system playing such a major role in fighting disease the possibilities seemed endless. This was one reason why I joined Takeda—a desire to apply immunology to the field of drug discovery. Another reason was because I wanted to work abroad in the future, and I saw that Takeda could provide that opportunity.

The application of Takeda’s philosophy, “Takeda-ism,” in support of research

Drug discovery research is flourishing in Boston. It’s the place to go to attend lectures by the world’s best scientists and learn what’s being done at the leading edge of the field. This provides a lot of inspiration and motivation for us as we work on the creation of drugs that will have a beneficial impact on patients. As we work, we think about how we can distinguish ourselves from other companies, using technology to serve the clinical front lines of treatment, and through that be a source of strength to patients everywhere. We have a clear strategy, and everyone on the research team is constantly learning both individually and from one another. Even if most of our research results don’t lead directly to drug discovery in the short term, the research is still very valuable, as it contributes to the steady accumulation of knowledge and the further development of our team’s capabilities.

I feel very fortunate to be here in Boston where I can access a wide range of information and expertise to help me in my work. Of course, I’ve been learning a lot from our leaders in the Immunology / Oncology Drug Discovery Unit. They provide each researcher with exactly the guidance and leadership that the individual needs. One day I hope to also be a leader like them: someone who can lay out the research vision, strategy and processes clearly, enabling the scientists, each of whom has his or her own individual approach to research and a passion to find the answers, to be drawn together to collaboratively to work towards a common goal.

Our team is very diverse, coming from all over the world, but regardless of our backgrounds we all share a common purpose, and are united by Takeda’s philosophy, known as “Takeda-ism.” For example, one of the values within that is perseverance, the quality of tirelessly pursuing your research goals, never giving up, and continuing until the job is done. In my own case, I was entrusted with a new research project that I had to start from scratch, and although there were many times when I felt discouraged, I was determined to see it through, and in the end made a success of the project.

Every researcher here in Boston has his or her own style of work and time management. People here are good at switching in and out of work mode, and balancing their careers and private lives. Personally, I like traveling, so I enjoy going offline by taking holidays and visiting national parks across the United States.

In the future I’d like to return to Japan and continue to pursue drug discovery research. I see my life here in Boston as laying the foundation on which to build the person I’d like to be in the future—someone who can use his experience and leadership skills to make an even greater contribution to the field of drug discovery.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
The research required to produce a new drug involves walking a long road—you need to have a long-term vision, and patience. But by taking one step at a time, every day you come a little closer to reaching your goal, and it’s knowing this that helps me enjoy the challenges of drug discovery.

Tsubasa Shiraishi

Starting his career at Shonan Research Center (SRC) in Shonan, Kanagawa, Tsubasa was tasked with researching the effects of drugs related to autoimmune diseases. He later transferred to Takeda’s Research Center in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, where he is currently researching immunotherapy treatments for cancer.