LONDON Takeda Pharmaceutical (4502.T), Japan's largest drugmaker, is scouting for potential multibillion-dollar acquisitions in the United States and other overseas markets as it seeks to reduce its dependence on domestic sales, which are proving sluggish.
Chief Executive Christophe Weber told Reuters on Wednesday that he is now more open to deals after refocusing the company on three key therapeutic areas and launching an overhaul of its research activities.
"We are much more organised and ready to do something now than one year ago," he said in a telephone interview. "We are very active and we are looking at opportunities."
Weber, a French national who took over as the company's first foreign boss last year, is on a mission to make Takeda a truly global pharmaceuticals business, arguing that this requires greater investment and expansion outside Japan.
At the end of July he set out plans for a 75 billion-yen ($725 million) reorganization of research and development by concentrating R&D efforts in the United States and Japan.
That revamp is part of a broader streamlining process designed to make the company a force to be reckoned with in its core therapy areas of cancer, gastrointestinal (GI) and central nervous system (CNS) medicine, plus vaccines.
Cancer treatment is a target for many large drugmakers, with high prices being paid for promising assets, such as Medivation (MDVN.O), which was sold last month for $14 billion after Pfizer (PFE.N) trumped an initial bid from Sanofi (SASY.PA) with a 55 percent higher offer.
"There is less competition in GI and CNS, but there is also less innovation. The oncology field is moving at a very fast pace," Weber said.
He said he would be happy to see Takeda's ratio of net debt to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization rise to 2, or slightly more, but he declined to confirm a report in the Financial Times that the company had set aside $10 billion to $15 billion for acquisitions.
Takeda's current net debt to EBITDA ratio is less than 1.
"We want to remain investment grade," Weber said. "Investment grade could mean two times EBITDA, perhaps a little bit higher in the short term."
Takeda's last major deal was in 2011 when it paid nearly $14 billion for Swiss drug company Nycomed, which greatly expanded its presence in emerging markets.
Now, however, the focus of Weber and his new research head Andy Plump is on building up the pipeline of novel medicines so Takeda has market-leading new treatments to replace older ones facing patent expiry.
The company's top-selling blood cancer drug Velcade faces generic competition in 2017 and other key products will go off patent from 2020.
New drugs Entyvio, for ulcerative colitis, and Ninlaro, a follow-on to Velcade, have made a promising start but Weber is conscious he needs to do more to ensure growth and boost margins.
"We are now much more focusing on the reinforcement of our pipeline because this is where we need to do something, so that in five years, when we start to see more significant patent expiries, we will have a pipeline to replace that," he said.
In recent weeks the company has already picked up the pace of smaller-scale deal-making, including a stem-cell agreement with Belgium's TiGenix (G9U.BR). It has also signaled its global ambitions in vaccines by advancing plans for trials for shots against dengue and Zika.
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)