Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Taiho Oncology: Making a difference in the lives of patients with cancer, their families and their caregivers in an exciting era of scientific and technological advances

“The treatment of cancer is rapidly evolving, in many ways more quickly than in other therapeutic areas. We’re committed to being an integral part of that.” -Tim Whitten, president and CEO, Taiho Oncology.  

According to the National Cancer Institute, about 40 percent of people in the United States will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. Cancer remains a major public health issue due, in large part, to the aging population and risk factors such as obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption and environmental hazards.

Yet, there is hope, and for good reason. A greater understanding of how cancer begins, grows and spreads, as well as advanced technologies to detect and treat the disease, is changing the oncology community’s approach to care. New innovative work by the industry in areas such as targeted therapies and immunotherapy are further paving the way for treatments that are more effective, less toxic and enable patients to lead more normal lives. While there may be no surefire cure for cancer, recent discoveries, in addition to traditional therapies, provide hope that, ultimately, cancer will be transformed from an acute disease to a chronic condition that is manageable over the long term. 

In addition, the delivery mechanisms for anti-cancer agents continue to evolve. While intravenous (IV) infusions administered in a healthcare setting remain the most common way to deliver anti-cancer therapies, medications taken by mouth and that can be taken at home may be a viable option for eligible patients. Oral anti-cancer agents have been the preferred delivery route in countries like Japan for many decades and, in the United States, their continued uptick is due to several factors, including evolving patient needs and expectations, technical problem-solving related to formulating  medications for oral administration and reimbursement from Medicare Part D.  

Taiho Oncology, Inc. is helping shape this new era in cancer drug development. Established in 2002 and headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey, Taiho Oncology specializes in the development of orally administered anti-cancer agents and markets these medicines for a range of tumor types in the United States. In addition, the company continues to grow and develop a pipeline that has evolved from one purely based on chemotherapy to one consisting almost exclusively of selectively targeted therapies that knock out cancer cells while minimizing collateral damage to healthy tissue. 

“With our focus on selectively targeted therapies that can be given orally, we are carving out an area where we believe we can compete and really make a difference for the patients with cancer who are waiting,” says Whitten. “It’s an exciting time to be in this industry and an exciting time for us at Taiho Oncology.” 

Company Background

Taiho Oncology is the U.S. subsidiary of Taiho Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., a major pharmaceutical company based in Tokyo. Taiho Oncology was established by Masayuki Kobayashi, whose father, Yukio, founded Taiho Pharmaceutical almost 60 years ago. Both Taiho Oncology and Taiho Pharmaceutical are part of Otsuka Holdings, a large multinational company headquartered in Japan that owns almost 200 businesses and employs approximately 50,000 people worldwide.   

Taiho Oncology works with Taiho Pharmaceutical to develop and register their pipeline of anti-cancer agents in markets in North America and Europe. In addition, as Otsuka’s oncology commercial and medical affairs organization in North America, Taiho Oncology commercializes oncology compounds discovered, developed and registered by Taiho Pharmaceutical, as well as approved therapies that originate from sister companies under Otsuka Holdings, such as Astex Pharmaceuticals.

“We are growing,” says Whitten. “We are part of a family of companies with a long history of innovation, and we are on a mission to improve the lives of patients with cancer, their families and their caregivers.”

Whitten became Taiho Oncology’s President and CEO in 2018; he joined the company in 2012 following extensive sales, marketing and leadership experience at both large and small pharmaceutical and biotech companies. His primary areas of focus at Taiho Oncology revolve around expanding the company’s footprint and reaching more patients with its marketed anti-cancer medicines, developing its pipeline and building a culture that, in his words, is “patient-centric, accountable, collaborative and trustworthy.” This is reflected in the company’s alliances with the cancer advocacy community, which serves as a conduit to improving education and awareness and connecting patients and their families to resources and support. Further, the company launched its Taiho Cares initiative in 2020 to give back to local communities; recent efforts include volunteering and donating nearly 800 pounds of nonperishable food items and 500 bookbags to needy families in Trenton, New Jersey. 

Another element of Taiho Oncology’s overarching strategy has been the expansion of its commercial oncology business into Europe with the recent opening of a European headquarters in Zug, Switzerland, a recognized life sciences hub. 

“This additional site ties into our plans to expand global operations and to commercialize potential future products, including ones that we in-license or acquire as part of our business development strategy,” says Whitten. 

Adapting Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Along with this growth and expansion, the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the company’s approach to how it interacts with employees, customers and, ultimately, the patients who stand to benefit from Taiho medications. As CEO, Whitten also saw this as an opportunity to introduce new approaches and channels to bring employees together – virtually for much of the pandemic – to further galvanize them around the company’s mission and set them up for success.

This included new ways of communicating with customers and employees. For example, with various restrictions in place around travel and face-to-face interactions, the company quickly mobilized and provided its sales team with technology and training to address customer needs in oncology offices. Whitten also started hosting an internal podcast featuring new employees – Taiho Oncology has hired 125 since the beginning of the pandemic – and tenured employees with the goal of building shared connections. 

“There have also been lessons about the importance of resilience and purposed-based work,” says Whitten. “I can’t say enough about how our employees have stepped up throughout this pandemic. In the midst of so much upheaval, we have advanced our pipeline, successfully launched a new product and continued to reach more patients with our medicines.”

Whitten says he believes many of the new or altered ways of working amid the pandemic will be here to stay to varying degrees. That includes re-thinking from where employees do their jobs. “At Taiho Oncology, we are evaluating in-office requirements by position, not by person. This has been key to our current hybrid work environment,” he says.

Looking to the Future

The coming years are likely to be an exciting time for cancer research and drug development. Whitten foresees a time when, as part of routine blood checks for cholesterol and glucose levels, patients will also have routine tumor or pre-cancerous abnormality tests and, if cancer is present, subsequent laboratory tests that provide a genetic profile of the tumor. 

“These new advances will lead to more early, accurate and precise diagnosis of the drivers of cancer and essentially result in a prescription of the best ways and combinations of medicines to treat the tumors so that patients are more likely to respond, have fewer or more manageable side effects and, ultimately, have a better outcome,” says Whitten. “I believe targeted and personalized treatments will become more common and precise and many types of cancer may be managed as a chronic disease and, possibly, cured in larger numbers of patients. Taiho Oncology plans to be part of that solution.” 

Meet The Leader

Tim Whitten, President & CEO, Taiho Oncology, Inc.

Responsibilities: Leads the company’s corporate, commercial and clinical development-related functions in the United States, as well as holds operational responsibility for Taiho Pharma Canada, Inc., and Taiho Oncology Europe, Ltd. 

Background: More than 30 years of progressive experience in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, including 17 years at Bristol Myers Squibb and five years at Pharmacyclics. Former President and CEO of Transave/Insmed. 

Education: Master of Business Administration, University of Virginia; Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy, West Virginia University. 

Personal: Married with three grown children. 

Quote: “I strongly believe in having a purpose-based life, which includes a purpose-based career. Don’t just do things, do them with intention. You’ll have a greater positive impact and, in my opinion, personal satisfaction.”