Takeda’s vaccine chief Rajeev Venkayya departs to lead pandemic-focused biotech

JAPAN – Rajeev Venkayya, longtime head of Takeda’s vaccine unit, is stepping down to become CEO of a new company “focused on combating COVID-19 and future pandemic threats,” Takeda has announced.

Although the Japanese pharmaceutical company did not develop its own vaccine, it did contract to assist in the production of Moderna and Novavax vaccines for the country and other markets.

Japan approved the Takeda-made Moderna shot in May, and Takeda finally submitted their version of the Novavax shot for approval in December.

For the time being, there isn’t much beyond those shots in Takeda’s vaccine pipeline, at least publicly.

Takeda announced last year that its dengue vaccine was 86.3 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations after three years in a large pivotal trial, paving the way for it to become only the second vaccine ever approved for the deadly tropical disease.


Venkayya, who joined Takeda in 2012, had been in charge of the dengue project since the pharma purchased a small dengue-focused company in 2013.

Venkayya’s other major long-term project, which began in 2012, was the development of a norovirus

vaccine.

Gary Dubin, another executive in the same division, will take his place. The change occurs as the more intensive stretches of Takeda's Covid-19 work come to an end.

Takeda spun out that candidate last year as Hillevax, a new biotech. It would be the world’s first inoculation against the vomit-inducing bug, now in Phase II.

The only other vaccine in Takeda’s pipeline is a Zika vaccine supported by the US government, which would not be approved until at least 2025.

Recognizing that the coronavirus is not going away as quickly as hoped, investors have renewed their support for companies that may offer new, long-term solutions, both for this pandemic and future ones.

Despite its antibody’s significantly reduced ability to neutralize Omicron, Adagio is still valued at just under US$1 billion.

In December, Pardes Biosciences received a US$200 million SPAC deal for new coronavirus-targeted pills.

They are joined by philanthropic organizations such as the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, which last month pledged US$300 million in new funding for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness.

CEPI, as it is known, provided critical funding to several vaccine groups, including Moderna and Oxford, early in the outbreak and continues to pledge funds for companies developing next-generation vaccine candidates for coronaviruses and other potential threats.

The federal government has also demonstrated a willingness to spend, launching a program to support universal coronavirus vaccines and committing US$1.2 billion to a program aimed at developing new antivirals for pandemic-threat pathogens, though these funds have largely gone to academic groups.

In addition to his decade at Takeda Vaccines, he oversaw bioterrorism and pandemic preparedness projects at the Gates Foundation for four years and bioterrorism and pandemic preparedness projects at the George W. Bush White House for four years prior.

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