An Interview with Global Head of Oncology Research and Development: Dr Antoine Yver
Disclosure: This is a non-commercial feature, although the European Medical Group has been in commercial agreements with Daiichi Sankyo Europe GmbH.
Daiichi Sankyo has, in a relatively short time-frame, become one of the most important pharmaceutical companies in the field of oncology. At the European Medical Group we wanted to understand the philosophy behind the novel treatments that are being developed by this global organisation, which have their corporate origins in Japan, including their values and culture, strategic approaches to research and development, and plans for the future. For this, we were delighted to speak with none other than Dr Antoine Yver, Executive Vice President and Global Head, Oncology Research and Development of Daiichi Sankyo, who provided us with detailed insights into these areas. It was such a wide-ranging discussion with the passionate Dr Yver that we decided to publish what was said into two parts: the first, which can be read below, focusses on the motivation, culture, goals, and strategies of the company, while the second, which will shortly be available on our website, will look specifically at the science and innovative treatments that are currently being worked upon.
Drive and Passion
Dr Yver has a wide range of experience in the field of cancer treatment, having originally trained as a paediatric oncologist before moving to the world of pharma, working for many high-profile companies in a career spanning close to 30 years. His motivation, which is heavily influenced by experiences at medical school all those years ago, is to ensure that cancer patients, particularly those who have unmet needs, have access to the high-quality treatments they require. In Daiichi Sankyo, he identified an organisation which corresponded to his own goals and values. He found them to be very sincere in their desire to help patients, with a strong emphasis on care and compassion as well as innovation and science. Additionally, Dr Yver was especially attracted by the quality of the research and science being conducted in Daiichi Sankyo’s laboratories, something typical of Japan. This is essentially a very thorough and methodical approach to research that is underpinned by a sense of moral duty and purpose.
Culture and Values
He quickly found the culture of the company to be highly indicative of the traits of kindness and compassion that are associated with Japan, and these interlinked with his personal values. “Japan has extremely high moral standards, which enhances scientific attitude, driving the seriousness with which things are being done, and in turn driving quality and effectiveness,” he explained. “So it’s no surprise that my own personal drive and culture and that of the company are very much aligned.”
Dr Yver also spoke of the sense of social duty and obligation that resonates amongst the staff of Daiichi Sankyo, an attitude which he believes pushes the boundaries of scientific discovery. “We are actually enriching the core values of the company: care, compassion, and we essentially augmented this,” he outlined. “We are adding science on top of the innovation, meaning that it is more than innovation. The science, which is the core of the engine, has unique social value, and then you add another dimension, which is what I call the obligation. If you have great science, I believe that as an organisation we have an obligation to deliver that science to patients, and that belief comes from my own personal history as a medic, as a trainee, as well as in pharma. And recognising the obligation is actually a fantastic driver.”
One of Daiichi Sankyo unique traits, critical to its impressive research output, has been the ability to maintain this Japanese-style attitude and approach to work throughout its various laboratories and offices around the world, including in the USA and Europe, as it has expanded globally. “It will probably be the first Japanese company which stays Japanese in identity where the source of the innovation and value is coming from Japan and continues to stay in Japan yet still be a global company,” he explained. “If you look at other Japanese companies they have tried to be global and took steps, such as relocating to research labs in certain parts of the USA and so forth, but in doing so they essentially left behind the critical uniqueness of Japan in terms of quality of science.”
Quality of Team
Additionally, being such a major medical company in Japan, the quality of employees attracted to the organisation’s laboratories is very high, with the top PhD students being recruited from the world class universities in the country every year. Naturally, this is another driver in enhancing the quality of the science and innovation taking place.
Dr Yver joined the Daiichi Sankyo team relatively recently, around 2 years ago, but has been part of a major growth of the company since. He told us how, just before he started working there, many people hadn’t even heard the name Daiichi Sankyo, but are now in a position where they are one of the biggest pharmaceutical names in oncology. This was a major achievement, as unlike other companies, they were not defined by a single product. Instead, the quality of their research was the element that took them to this next level. “What is different about Daiichi Sankyo is that we put ourselves on the map through our technology and research because it is really fascinating. And that’s why I was attracted early on because of the ability to not only bring the development pipeline to fruition but to really push and protect the research. The transformation has been massive even though it’s only been 2 years,” he elucidated.
Dr Yver quickly established a new and more efficient approach to drug development at Daiichi Sankyo. This revolved around defining the biology and medical need for each treatment created to ensure that it can meet regulatory approval with no unnecessary steps being taken. This broke the cycle of always going down the often lengthy conventional approach of the Phase I, II, and III trial process.
Linked to this concept, the company is also very focussed on specific areas that have maximum impact, and does not want to overload the scope of its work; an organising principle that Dr Yver believes has been at the heart of its success. “We are very systematic in what we are doing, and we also only do things that have the potential to be valuable for patients, meaning that we are not interested in creating drugs that target areas for which there are already a lot of treatments available,” he explained. “Our business is to address well-identified unmet needs by very unique pharmacology.”
This often means that a lot of time, effort, and even failed attempts occur before novel treatments are created, but this is a process that Daiichi Sankyo embraces. “When it comes to disruptive breakthroughs we’re looking at pursuing things which are difficult to crack, because I’m happy to have five or six attempts on big unsolved problems,” he commented.
When asked about the main challenges for the future, Dr Yver picked out three areas, describing them as opportunities rather than challenges to be overcome. One of these is maintaining a sense of moral and social responsibility, particularly with regard to access to drugs. He believes very passionately that there is an onus on the pharma industry and academia to come together to help make treatments more accessible and affordable. Another concerns the data needed to support approval for the highly specialised and targeted therapies that Daiichi Sankyo are particularly involved in developing. “These data are going to be very different in the future from what they are now and we will have less large trials providing marginal impact and more reliance on real-world data: real practice data as opposed to a costly, monitored, trial perspective,” he described. The third opportunity is to change the way cancer is looked at, and in turn different drug development methods. This is especially regarding the interdependence of the immune system; for example, factors such as chronic inflammation and their impact on cancer development and survival.
Thank you for reading Part 1 of our interview with Dr Yver, in which we discussed culture, values, and strategies of Daiichi Sankyo. In Part 2 which will be published shortly, we move on to seeing how these concepts have and are translating into innovative new treatments for cancer patients with unmet needs.