2018 BBA Winner Profile: Company of the Year- AstraZeneca Japan

Dec. 7, 2018

For AstraZeneca Japan (AZKK), 2018 has been a year of firsts: a record number of treatments launched in ground-breaking time, a diversity and inclusion director appointed, a sustainability benchmark reached and a British Business Award (BBA) on display in its Tokyo office.

The global biopharmaceutical business received the coveted 2018 Company of the Year trophy at the BCCJ’s headliner red carpet event on November 2.

It was recognised for its efforts to bring seven innovative treatments to the Japanese market in a single year and to provide life-changing treatments more quickly to patients in desperate need. The firm’s approach to diversity and inclusion (D&I) and social and environmental responsibility was also commended by BBA judges.

Of the seven treatments launched, three are breakthrough medicines, while three are expanded indications for delivering options to treat new diseases. The remaining one is the country’s first companion diagnostic for hereditary breast cancer. All are recognised as life-changing for patients.

Of the three medicines, the first treats relapsed ovarian cancer, thereby offering a previously unavailable treatment option to affected patients. The second is the first new treatment option in 20 years to treat early-stage lung cancer, by stimulating the immune system. The third is AZKK’s first biological medicine to treat severe asthma. In the second year of a trial, 74% of patients reported being able to live a full life after beginning the treatment.

“Launching seven treatments in one year is remarkable because only one in 30,000 candidate molecules for new medicine is successful, so it can take 15 years to develop one medicine,” explained Stefan Woxström, president and representative director of AZKK.

Aside from R&D innovation, the firm has been committed to get medicines into the hands of patients quicker, by obtaining faster approval, offering ethical zero-yen supply and dispatching medicines swiftly. 

Normally pricing decisions and health insurance procedures mean patients wait 2–3 months for medicines following their approval. But AZKK’s Zero-yen Supply Programme allows patients in urgent need, and with no other effective treatment options, to access the firm’s breakthrough medicines free of charge and up to three months before they are marketed, starting on the first day of the medicine’s approval.

By coordinating with health authorities, medical institutions and other stakeholders, an estimated 330 patients with lung cancer, ovarian cancer and severe asthma have benefited from this scheme so far.

AZKK’s operation team, too, played their part in the swift delivery of medicines, by producing the information insert required for the medicine packs within 24 hours of each medicine’s approval.

“For patients waiting for new medicines, every day counts,” explained Woxström of AZKK’s approach, adding that success would not have been possible without the cooperation of AZKK’s 3,000 employees.

“All of our employees worked as one team to ensure access to these medicines as quickly as possible,” he said.

Woxström noted that the seven “life-changing” treatments AZKK launched in 2018 will dramatically expand treatment options for patients in Japan. The firm aims to treat eight million patients nationwide over the next three years.  

Diversity and inclusion

AZKK was also recognised for its commitment to a diverse and inclusive working environment, which it believes drives the innovation behind its pharmaceutical breakthroughs.

Through its Women’s Leadership initiative, the firm is nurturing self-confidence and management skills among its female staff, with proven results. In its Osaka headquarters, 34% of managers are women, compared to the Japanese average of 9.2%.

Not satisfied with that ratio, however, Woxström says his benchmark is for more than half of leadership positions in AZKK to be held by women, as is the case in his home country of Sweden. In 2018, AZKK therefore created a new director role, to champion D&I across the organisation.

Part of those efforts is AZKK’s Great Place to Work programme, which supports working parents through extended pre- and post-natal leave, supplementary childcare allowances, greater flexibility for working fathers to take childcare leave and remote working.

Meanwhile, the firm’s executives have been traveling across Japan to visit branch offices to foster engagement in AZKK’s work.

“Every opinion counts when driving innovation to bring medicines to patients,” explained Woxström of the nationwide initiative.

Social and environmental responsibility

The firm has shown commitment to the wellbeing of the community in Japan not only in its approach to launching medicines but also through social responsibility.

Its Cancer Patient Empowerment Network is supporting patients in areas where advocacy is less developed, to help ensure they receive earlier access to innovative treatments.

Following the widespread floods in western Japan in July 2018, AZKK donated ¥10mn to a Red Cross appeal, while its employees donated ¥2.2mn. The firm also provided supplies and onsite support to wholesalers, to deliver an uninterrupted supply of medicines to patients in affected areas.

What’s more, in 2018 AstraZeneca was named a Sustainability Leader by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, the longest-running global sustainability benchmark in the world.

Thanks to the BCCJ

Woxström explained that, although AZKK regularly recognises its teams and staff internally, being recognised by an external organisation feels “extra special,” particularly by a prestigious one such as the BCCJ.

He added that the employees are proud to have been honoured with the award and AZKK remains “committed to making tireless efforts towards our goal of consistently delivering life-changing medicines to patients.”

Produced by Sterling Content for the BCCJ