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Someone who inspires her research team with her smile and explores unknown worlds in safety evaluation.

Junko Taketo

Research Div.
Safety Assessment Dept.
Since 2006

Accepted for who I am.

Junko Taketo has loved living creatures ever since she was a child. When she went to university, she chose the pharmacy faculty, drawn by the fact that it would allow her to study biology, the field she had always been interested in, while also studying to obtain qualifications as a pharmacist. At university, she worked on research into the toxicology of dioxins. ‘I found the research interesting, and I wanted to continue it at graduate school, but then my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. I decided that this was no time to be doing research, so was considering graduating and getting a job as a pharmacist, but my mother said to me, “You should do what you want to do. You’ve done all this study so far,” and she encouraged me to go onto to graduate school. While I continued with my research as my mother wanted, we were blessed by an opportunity in the form of the launch of an innovative anti-cancer drug, and my mother, whose cancer was in the terminal stages, recovered, albeit it temporarily. I was very moved, and I decided that I, too, wanted to help develop new drugs, so I set my sights on working in a pharmaceutical company.’

In the course of investigating several companies, the one that held the most appeal in Taketo’s eyes was Chugai Pharmaceutical. The fact that this company was at the forefront of bio-pharmaceuticals in the world. The fact that it had implemented bold strategies for a Japanese pharmaceutical company, such as its pioneering decision to form an alliance with Roche. And, the fact that she was accepted for who she was at the interview. This is what made the greatest impression on Taketo. ‘I engage with everybody quite directly and I was not very good at formal respectful speech (laughs). But the interviewers at Chugai Pharmaceuticals said that they liked my cheerful attitude and accepted my individuality. After I joined the company, I asked my boss why I was hired, and the answer that came back was that “they liked my smile.” I don’t know whether or not that is really true, but through my interactions at the interview, I did get the feeling that this was the kind of company where I could be myself.’

As a researcher,
my every day is filled with excitement and struggle.

The area that Taketo has delved into for more than ten years is safety evaluation using lab animals. She administers substances that are candidates for new drugs to the animals and verifies whether or not there is any toxicological action in their bodies and whether the reactions are manageable. Depending on the new drug being evaluated, there have also been times when she has operated on the animal to collect the necessary data. If safety can be ensured at this point, the drug will move onto the human clinical trial phase, so the responsibility on her shoulders is a great one. ‘In recent times, Chugai Pharmaceuticals has been developing one innovative new drug after another, such as antibody drugs. All of them have unknown actions and changes, so existing methods of evaluating safety may not be good enough, and we must wrack our own brains to come up with new methods. It is not straightforward, but conversely, that is what makes it so rewarding for me.’

Taketo says that working at Chugai Pharmaceutical, which is at the forefront of the world, there have been many times when she has been surprised as a researcher involved in drug discovery. ‘The first time I saw a bi-specific antibody (an antibody that has different antigen binding sites on the left and right for binding to different antigens) in the laboratory, I was really excited and amazed that there were these kinds of ideas in pharmaceuticals! I was in my third year with the company back then, and when I was given the task of its safety evaluation, I had a great deal to learn and it was a very difficult job, but I really enjoyed it.’ For these kinds of unprecedented antibody drugs, conventional evaluation methods will often not work. For example, if the drug does not work on small animals such as mice and rats, new approaches are needed, such as modifying the target animal with techniques such as gene knockdown and evaluating the drug in a simulated way. Elucidating the mechanisms of toxicological action is also important, and they sometimes consider it with a combination of animal testing and evaluation that uses cells. They must be on a constant quest for advances in evaluation methods, which Taketo describes as the real thrill of safety research at Chugai Pharmaceutical.

Being myself even as a leader.

The new drug using the bi-specific antibody that Taketo was tasked with evaluating is currently under development. ‘It does make me happy to think that I played some small part in that. Being able to really sense that your work is contributing to society is a rare experience. This is one aspect of why I am truly glad that I have built up my career as a researcher at Chugai Pharmaceutical.’ Lately, Taketo has had more opportunities to interact with researchers from Roche and Genentech, which she says she finds extremely stimulating. ‘Genentech, in particular, is leading the world in bio-pharmaceuticals, so the opportunity to discuss issues with such outstanding researchers from overseas is very educational. This kind of environment is another part of Chugai Pharmaceutical’s appeal.’

Taketo is currently working as a team leader in safety research, heading up nine other team members. As well as raising the standard of her own work as a researcher, she is also focusing her energies on managing the young members of her team. One thing she is conscious of when doing so is to smile. Safety evaluation is a job that is done as a team. There is constant pressure to tackle unknown domains, but if the team members all interact with each other with a smile and consideration, it will raise team morale, and motivation is also sure to increase. ‘As the team’s leader, I want to put that into practice myself. If there is anybody out there who likes biology and is inspired to create new drugs, I hope you will come and join our team. I don’t think there is any place that will allow you to take on such cutting-edge challenges as Chugai Pharmaceutical.’ And so, Taketo sends out a cheer of encouragement to those young researchers of the future.

*The contents of this article, and the divisions that the people featured in this article belonged to and the names of those divisions are current as of the time of the interview.


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