As a specialized manufacturer of generic drugs, Towa Pharmaceutical has dedicated itself to the research, development and manufacturing of high quality and sophisticated medication. With over 700 drugs on the market, the company is not only improving the health of an aging Japan but is also pouring energy into finding ways to make drugs easier to take for patients and easy to handle for healthcare professionals. Here, the company’s president Itsuro Yoshida outlines the company’s vision and cutting-edge research that has the potential to enhance the pharmaceutical industry in Japan and around the world
How has Japan’s aging population impacted the country’s pharmaceutical industry, and how is the company innovating to address that challenge?
There’s obviously more need for medical care cost-cutting and medical support. Within that, drug treatment is important and something to which we can definitely contribute. Our generic products can help people live healthy lives, while also saving costs. Of course, to cure any sort of disease or illness, drugs must be properly taken and administered. That’s why it is important to make drugs that are easy to take. If you look at children, even if they know they have to take a certain medication to get better, if its taste is bitter, they don’t want to take it. For elderly people, over time they lose their strength to swallow and cannot swallow medication. So what’s really important is for them to be able to take the medication with ease. We are devoted to developing medicinal products that are easy to take, so we have developed OD tablets which can be swallowed without having to drink water after they melt in the mouth. Our OD tablets are manufactured with our unique RACTAB technology, and the tablets are balanced with hardness and disintegration, and we also have technology that masks the bitterness of the medication itself. Our masking technology is really important since OD tablets disintegrate and melt in the mouth and the taste gets worse. Our technology for this is not yet complete and we haven’t been able to mask the bitter taste of certain drugs yet. So, we’ve set up a new division, called the Innovative Technology Research Laboratory that is trying to develop the fundamental idea of pharmaceutical products. The final goal is to achieve no bitterness in any of our medications, that is, “complete masking.”
How does Towa keep providing innovationsfor the development of the pharmaceutical industry?
We believe that we do need investment to build up our skills and technology. At this moment, we are trying to achieve innovations in formulation technology and manufacturing technology, and an example is the introduction of continuous manufacturing. Process Analytical Technology (PAT), which provides quality assurance by checking the data of our processes, needs to be established and required for the implementation of continuous manufacturing. This is very efficient and is also good for the environment. In terms of the material that we’re using for making the medications, we’re doing research to create technology for an efficient synthesis – “asymmetric synthesis” – together with the University of Tokyo. In the synthesis process of certain active pharmaceutical ingredients and/or its intermediates, optically active substances (asymmetric molecular structures) can be obtained. In the case that an enantiomer is not active and the other is active as a pharmaceutical ingredient, the former is waste and the disposal loss gets bigger. Therefore, the technology of asymmetric synthesis is an innovative method of synthesis, selecting necessary enantiomers of optically active substances.
Does Towa Pharmaceuticals have opportunities to expand its business in the overseas market?
Currently, we’re doing our best to contribute as much as possible to the Japanese market as well as trying to improve our current technology. But our further aim is to create medication that can tolerate any kind of environment. There are a lot of drugs that lose their quality in heat, humidity or light, and the general lifespan is three years. If we can create something that has a lifespan of five to ten years and can survive in any sort of environment, we would be able to help many places, especially countries in South East Asia or Africa where their living conditions are not as developed and the climates are hotter and more humid. If we are able to create something like this, we will be able to provide such products, not just to Japan but to everywhere else. As long as there are people who need medication like this then we will continue working in this direction. The OD tablets with RACTAB technology can be effective for places where safe drinking water may not be available and for people who have difficulties swallowing all over the world. By doing further research in this area we could come up with more solutions that will be beneficial both abroad and at home.
What have been the key milestones for your company?
I think our two biggest milestones have been spreading awareness about generic drugs and contributing to the economy in terms of medical care. Now, we are trying to perfect our products so that we can keep contributing. This activity is based on our policy of being “a company appreciated by society all through the ages.” I think that in order to deliver to any society, any community, not just Japan but anywhere in the world, we must make products that are needed. Regardless of the time or the place, what we want to do is to continue our research to see what is most desired by the people so that we can provide it and continue to be a company that is needed.
How do you promote wellness in Japan?
Of course, we are aiming for our customers to be satisfied with our products and for our products to be needed because they’re safe, reliable and easy to take. My future aim for how we will contribute to the people in terms of their health is not just giving them the medication that makes them healthier, which is obviously what we’re doing now, but to deliver services that help to avoid future illnesses. There are a lot of health problems where people look healthy but actually, they may have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or are close to diabetes. These things can’t be seen with the eye. So our next aim would be to come up with ideas about how to prevent these future illnesses from occurring.
What is the key ingredient for Towa’s success?
I believe that passion is something that is extremely important, and I feel that part of my responsibility is to be able to share this passion, and that’s something that’s needed. Without it, we can’t realize our goals. So, in order for our business to be sustainable, we need the passion to create products that will lead to people’s health and smiles through our company philosophy, “we contribute to people’s health” and “we are dedicated to people’s genuine smiles.”