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Someone who engages in global clinical trials with the goal of one day shifting the times with medicine.

Akari Tanaka

Clinical Development Div.
Clinical Science & Strategy Dept.
Since 2015

Developing drugs closer to the action.

Akari Tanaka, who studied pharmacy, wanted to work in clinical development at Chugai Pharmaceutical because, rather than focusing only on research, she wanted to engage in development of drugs somewhere closer to the scene of the action. ‘When I decided that I wanted to use my abilities to send pharmaceuticals out into the world, what I found overwhelmingly appealing about Chugai Pharmaceutical was its many development pipelines (development products from the initial stages of drug development through to market launch) and its ability to develop both in Japan and overseas through its alliance with Roche.’

She also had an ambition to one day work together with overseas colleagues. So, Tanaka was happily surprised to be given these very opportunities, including joining a global team from her first year and having meetings with and exchanging information with staff in overseas locations. ‘In my third year, I participated in the publication of clinical trial results at a cancer conference in Europe, where I was assigned to discussions with doctors and the company staff. Chugai Pharmaceutical’s reputation for allowing young employees to take on challenges was really true.’

Clinical Science & Strategy Department,
a hub that connects divisions.

Tanaka was assigned to the development of a new drug for prostate cancer and, since joining the company, she has been consistently involved in clinical trials from phase 1 to 3. ‘It was the first time for the company to conduct a trial for prostate cancer, so I started by studying what prostate cancer is.’ Tanaka attended academic conferences, collected information from articles, and deepened her knowledge by hearing directly from specialist physicians. ‘I decided that I would become the clinical developer with most knowledge of anyone in the company about the prostate cancer domain. Chugai Pharmaceutical has a corporate culture of sharing knowledge, so I also keep and compile all data to make it easy for everyone in the company to access that information in the future.’ Tanaka describes the role of the Clinical Science & Strategy Department as a hub that connects the various divisions in the company. ‘From the planning stage of clinical trials, during the course of the trial, to filing the approval application after the trial has ended and the results are produced, we engage with numerous departments, including the Research Division, Drug Safety Division, the MA Division, the regulatory affairs functions related to new drug applications and evaluations, the biostatistics and clinical pharmacology functions related to data analysis, clinical study management, and the monitors who visit the facilities where the trial is being conducted. We need advanced communication skills to connect these diverse functions and positions.’ It is not only in Japan.

‘In cases where there is a difference in treatment systems between Japan and overseas and where discussion regarding safety in Japanese patients is necessary, we also communicate the information to members of Roche and Genentech.’ By collecting data from a large number of patients through clinical trials, new information that is not visible from the data of individual patients is obtained, which gives Tanaka a sense of the significance and achievement in her work. ‘Sometimes, apart from the trial’s main analysis, we also conduct analysis from different angles in the form of sub-group analysis. Depending on the results of this analysis, we can identify which patients can obtain the most benefit from administration of the drug.’ The impact of the results will change the next step of the trial. ‘This is precisely why it is so interesting, and I feel the weight of my responsibility.’

Results could shift the times.

Tanaka feels that the results of clinical trials have the potential to cause a shift in the times. ‘If you obtain amazing results showing that a particular drug could extend patients’ lives for this long, then treatments could completely change around the world.’ She has felt at first hand the excitement of medical professionals on many occasions at academic conferences she has attended. ‘When I see the excitement and enthusiasm of doctors when they encounter new promising drugs at the venue, I feel motivated and it gives me a sense of mission.’ Tanaka is currently in charge of several projects simultaneously. ‘The large number of pipelines is what gives Chugai Pharmaceutical its strength as a company.’ No matter how busy she may be, her approach toward her work is always serious. ‘There are cases in which clinical trials are conducted overseas ahead of Japan, so we strive to work with a strong intention that the Japan side will keep pace with international joint trials and not fall behind, so we can file the approval application at the same time.’ Tanaka’s dream is to create a new style of treatment and medical care.

‘Chugai has a corporate culture that allows us to be proactive in taking on challenges. I believe the style of clinical trials will also change significantly, so I am wondering if there is something interesting I can make happen with the use of IoT, which is being talked about a lot these days.’ Of course, Tanaka intends to do everything she can to ensure that the drugs she is currently in charge of are sent out into the world. ‘Releasing new drugs into the world means there is one more option available to society. I am always conscious that the patients are out there, beyond my own work.’

*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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