A Q&A with Astellas Pharma

Mar 07, 2022

with Michael Luther, Ph.D., MBA, Head of Early Stage Partnering, Astellas
Originally posted on January 11, 2022

Ahead of its Pharma Days© event on April 5, revisit our Q&A with Michael Luther, Head of Early Stage Partnering for Astellas to discover the organization’s approach to collaboration and partnering, and register for Astellas Pharma Day.

During its Pharma Days® on April 5, 2022, Astellas will showcase its capabilities and approaches to collaboration, enabling the life sciences leader to translate innovative discoveries into novel treatments for patients. We spoke with Michael Luther, Ph.D., MBA, Head of Early Stage Partnering for Astellas to discuss more about how their organization creates active and productive collaborations.

What is Astellas’ approach to innovation?

At Astellas, open innovation is a core part of our culture and strategy and is critical to our long-term success. Innovations in science are key drivers to the success of Astellas’ pipeline and delivering on our promises to patients.

To accomplish these goals, Astellas must be constantly aware of and to rapidly access the right science at the right time to drive our pipeline both today and for the long term future success of Astellas.  This includes areas like Blindness & Regeneration, Mitochondrial Biology, Genetic Regulation, and Immuno-Oncology. This requires building strong networks with key opinion leaders in science and medicine from academia to industry to identify and create the necessary win-win collaborations and partnerships needed to accelerate the discovery and development of new medicines.  

It is imperative that these partnerships deliver value through impact on our product pipeline in a way that allows us to translate these innovations into novel treatments to address areas of unmet medical need for patients.

Why is Astellas working with MassBio to support emerging companies?

We recognize and acknowledge that >99% of new innovations happen outside of Astellas. Our success relies on the partnerships we have built to date, as well as our ability to identify and establish new partnerships to ensure we have access to the right expertise and science when we need it, so that our drug development teams can achieve and deliver the breakthroughs necessary for new therapeutic developments. Working with MassBio allows us to access and interact with a number of the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders, scientists, and companies we need to rapidly discover and develop new therapeutics.

In addition, we support emerging science and companies globally through our “Future Innovator Prize” competitions.  Working with biotech incubators and VCs in both the US and Europe we identify new entrepreneurial scientists, and early stage-start-up companies to provide access to funding and Astellas’ global network of R&D scientists and leaders.

Which therapeutic or R&D areas does Astellas want to partner on? What types of companies or innovators does Astellas want to partner with?

Astellas is interested in emerging areas of drug discovery including new biological insights, platforms, and modalities across multiple therapeutic areas, such as: oncology, immunology, and neuroscience. Current modalities and approaches include cell therapy, gene therapy, regenerative medicine, vaccines, small molecules, antibodies, and associated technologies.

We are also working with and looking for machine learning and digital approaches to improve patient outcomes from precision medicine to increased patient awareness and disease management technologies through our new RX+ group.

How will Astellas help emerging companies grow their businesses?

We are more than just a company who provides access to financing. We create active and productive collaborations with our partners including access to our global R&D expertise, end to end resources, and our network of partners to help scientists, clinicians, and companies deliver innovation. We are confident by working together we can accelerate the development of breakthrough treatments for the patients who need them. 

At Astellas, we continue to make significant investments in increasing our capabilities and capacities in discovery, development, and manufacturing through partnerships and acquisitions. Recent examples include Audentes, Xyphos, Mitobridge, and Universal Cells, all of which are making significant contributions to our product pipeline. Their expertise, insights, and capabilities are made available to our partners as well. Working together, we can accelerate the discovery and product development of new therapeutics for the patients who need them now.

Author Bio

Michael Luther, Ph.D., MBA
Head of Early Stage Partnering, Astellas

Dr. Michael Luther is the Head of Early Stage Partnering at Astellas based in Cambridge.  Mike has over 34 years’ experience as an entrepreneurial scientist and executive in the biopharmaceutical industry including roles in biotech start-ups and global pharmaceutical industry.

Before joining Astellas, Mike was the founding CEO of Bantam Pharmaceutical, a biotech company focused on developing novel therapeutics in cancer and mitochondrial dynamics. 

In past roles, Mike was the Senior Vice President for Drug Discovery & Development at Curio and founding CEO of the North Carolina Research Campus.

Mike has over 20 years in executive roles in the global pharmaceutical industry including Vice President roles and head of drug discovery divisions at Merck and GSK.  At GSK, he led multiple discovery teams that resulted in the successful launch of 4 new therapeutics in oncology and metabolic disease as well as initiating the pharmaceutical industry’s initial efforts in precision medicine and drug repositioning. 

Dr. Luther holds Bachelor of Science degrees from North Carolina State University, a doctorate degree from St. Louis University School of Medicine, and an MBA from Duke University.  He was a Carl Stone Muscular Dystrophy Fellow at The Salk Institute, and is the author of over 70 publications and patents.

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