(Reuters) - Amgen Inc, the world's largest biotechnology company, said it entered into a long-term collaboration with Astellas Pharma Inc and will form a joint venture with the Japanese drugmaker to provide new medicines in Japan.
Amgen management told a meeting of investors and analysts in February that it planned to expand its business into major Asian markets in 2015 and 2016 and called its lack of presence in Japan and China "a noticeable gap."
Wednesday's announcement takes a major step toward filling that gap. The companies said they will co-develop and sell five drugs currently in Amgen's pipeline, with the first commercial launch in Japan potentially coming in 2016.
"This alliance reflects our long-term commitment to the Japan market and is an important step in our global expansion efforts," Amgen Chief Executive Robert Bradway said in a statement.
The experimental drugs include AMG-145 from a highly promising new class of cholesterol medicines called PCS-K9 inhibitors, osteoporosis treatment romosozumab and the gastric cancer medicine rilotumumab - all currently in late stage testing, although at an earlier phase in their Japanese clinical trials.
The other two medicines, which are not as far along in development, are AMG-337 for gastric cancer and blinatumomab, which is being tested against acute lymphoblastic leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Gastric cancer is a huge unmet need in Asia, particularly in China.
"This alliance will help accelerate development and commercialization of Amgen medicines for patients in Japan," Bradway said.
Amgen and Astellas will establish a Tokyo-based joint venture to be called Amgen Astellas BioPharma KK that is expected to begin operating on October 1. It will be led and staffed by employees of both companies and new hires.
Amgen will initially own 51 percent of the joint venture and it will become fully owned by the U.S. biotech as soon as 2020, the companies added.
Reporting by Bill Berkrot. Editing by Andre Grenon