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Someone who ventures into unexplored territory to evolve production of bio-drugs

Wataru Tanaka

Pharmaceutical Technology Div.
API Process Development Dept.
Since 2019

Wataru Tanaka wants to deliver antibody drugs to as many patients as possible.

“A single doctor can only help the patients in front of them. Drugs can save many more patients.” This statement, which Wataru Tanaka heard as a high school student from a university professor when he attended an open day at the university he hoped to enter, was to determine the direction of his life. ‘I have always loved biology, and I was interested in medicine. I was so impressed by what that professor said that it gave me a strong ambition to create drugs and deliver them to patients in the future.’ Tanaka majored in biotechnology at university and went on to research the production efficiency of antibody drugs using animal cells at graduate school. Tanaka decided to work in the pharmaceutical industry and focused on Chugai Pharmaceutical as a place where he believed he could make the most of his research.

‘I was attracted by Chugai Pharmaceutical’s status as Japan’s leading company in bio-drugs, particularly antibody drugs, and by the fact that, as a member of the Roche Group, it is able to roll out drugs that it has developed itself on global markets. My hope is to engage in CMC (Chemistry, Manufacturing and Control) research, in other words, to give shape to drugs by researching how to make and deliver drugs to many patients, rather than discovering seeds of drugs. Knowing that Chugai Pharmaceutical has a focus on CMC research, I applied to join the company, as I thought that Chugai Pharmaceutical would allow me to achieve my desired career path.’ After joining the company, Tanaka was assigned to the department in charge of technological development of the production process for antibody drugs. This was exactly what he wanted to do, and he now specializes in delving more deeply into culture techniques.

A new culture medium that I helped develop has my initials

Tanaka’s team is tasked with lowering the costs of the production process for bio-drugs, including antibody drugs. For mass production of antibody drugs, culturing high-quality cells that will form antibodies efficiently is key. Tanaka is mainly working on the development of this culture technique. ‘As well as using existing technology to establish advanced manufacturing processes for molecules of the drug candidates that come up from the labs, I am working on developing fundamental new technologies for the next generation. Very soon after joining the company, I was assigned to a very complex research theme, where I considered new culture techniques under senior researchers. It was a very challenging task for me, but I have kept forging ahead with a sense of achievement that, through repeated experiments, we are gradually drawing closer to our goal.’

Due partly to Tanaka’s hard work, the team succeeded in developing a culture medium that dramatically improves productivity for antibody drugs. Culture evaluation with this culture medium achieved world-class productivity, and Tanaka felt excited to be on the cutting edge of the world in his third year at the company. ‘When it came to give this new culture medium a name, a senior researcher who led the development suggested, “Why don’t we put Tanaka’s name in it?”, so my initials have been included in the name of the culture medium. During the development process, I poured myself into the work of evaluation and analysis of experimental data every day. I was very happy that my hard work and contributions were highly regarded, which gave me extra motivation towards technological development.’ Tanaka is enthusiastic about rolling out a production system that uses this new culture medium for actual drug development projects in the future.

Aiming for further innovation using Japan-first equipment

Having been assigned a new theme, Tanaka is currently working on setting up a new culture system to shorten the development period in the production process. ‘A state-of-the-art automated culture apparatus was introduced for this project, the first of its kind in pharmaceutical industry in Japan. Chugai Pharmaceutical invests proactively in the creation of innovation, and by making advances in technological development environment in this way, we are speeding up the pace of problem-solving even further. This is an unknown challenge for me, and I am still struggling to set it up. Through this project, my current goals are to develop a technique that can be used universally for many drug candidates and to disseminate the results at various opportunities, including at academic conferences.’

Tanaka says that he wants to build a platform for evolving production of bio-drugs and to deliver as many drugs as possible to patients more quickly. ‘My supervisor often says, “Even if we found innovative seeds of drugs, those seeds alone are not enough to save patients. It can reach patients only when it is given form as a drug, so our mission has great significance.” This is something that I am also proud of. With its abundance of new drug candidates, Chugai Pharmaceutical has a wide range of seeds of drugs to work on. My university friends who work for other pharmaceutical companies envy me on that point. I am so lucky that I am working on research in such a wonderful environment, and I hope to create innovation by myself that will be able to contribute to many patients.’

*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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