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Japan's Eisai taps partnership model to expand drug innovation

Japan's Eisai Co. Ltd., which has recently teamed up with Biogen Inc., Merck & Co. Inc. and others, said it will continue to rely on partnerships to fuel innovation.

"Partners who have comparable capabilities will come together in order to realize these missions," CEO Haruo Naito said during the company's earnings call for the fiscal year ended March 31.

The company on March 7 formed a partnership agreement with U.S.-based Merck to co-develop treatments with Eisai's cancer drug Lenvima, both as a single agent and in combination with Merck's cancer immunotherapy Keytruda.

Eisai's Lenvima is approved to treat three cancer types. As a single agent, it is used to treat thyroid cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer. In combination with Novartis AG's Afinitor, it is approved to treat renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer.

The company hopes Lenvima can eventually be approved for 14 treatments across eight cancer types through its collaboration with Merck and other clinical studies.

"As soon as possible, through [its] combination with Keytruda, we would like to obtain approvals for 11 indications in six types of cancer. At the same time, we are targeting multiple indications in various cancer types. We are simultaneously carrying out a basket trial and we are waiting to see how this will develop," Naito said.

The Tokyo-based drug manufacturer is also awaiting trial results for aducanumab, a highly anticipated Alzheimer's drug that it is developing with Biogen and for which it expanded its collaboration deal late in 2017.

The companies should complete patient enrollment for the ongoing phase 3 Alzheimer's study in the first half of 2018, the company said during the earnings presentation.