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A decade of powering innovation from within

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October 12, 2021

At Takeda, we give our employees opportunities to develop their careers, while fostering innovation. Launched in 2011, our Takeda Exploratory Challenge aims to empower scientists to think outside the box and explore ideas that can really make a difference for patients.

In 2011, Dr. Takashi Ichikawa, senior director, Asia New Chemical Entity Production Laboratories in our Neuroscience Drug Discovery Unit and Takeda Exploratory Challenge lead, sat down with Takeda leaders to discuss how to accelerate innovation within the Research team. He believed one of the keys was to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit and an attitude of continual learning among his team, and they agreed. The question was how to create an opportunity for our scientists to foster this “spark.” Thus, the Takeda Exploratory Challenge (TEC) was born.

What is TEC?

Led by our Research team, TEC is a funding program for Takeda scientists to explore and develop their research ideas. The main objective of this program is to source new and innovative ideas that align with Takeda’s business strategy as well as ideas that challenge current trends, break new ground, and seek to expand Takeda’s innovation pipeline. TEC began as a way to support initiatives led by our researchers based in Japan, but in 2018, it expanded to include all of Takeda Research globally.

Each year, the Research team holds a call for proposals and our scientists can apply and submit their ideas. These ideas are reviewed by senior scientific leaders, funded within the Research organization, and the scientists embark on a year-long research journey. At the end of the year’s cycle, scientists present their achievements, conclusions and recommendations to Research leaders, who decide whether to pursue the idea, or discontinue.

“When we launched this program 10 years ago, there were some uncertainties, especially since this wasn’t something we’ve ever done before,” recalls Takashi. “Initially, we only planned to run this program for three cycles, but we continued to see such success that we’ve now reached the 10-year anniversary.”

While the program has grown over time, it remains true to its vision of simultaneously developing our people and our pipeline by encouraging and facilitating bold innovation. It offers our scientists on-the-job opportunities to build key research skills such as developing, leading, budgeting for and defending proposals. At the same time, it allows Takeda to identify innovative ideas that can contribute to our present and future pipeline.

Takashi continued, “Every researcher has ideas which he or she would like to pursue. And it’s exciting to be able to give them this platform to do just that.”

Cultivating our people and our pipeline

Our goal with this program is to provide professional development for our researchers by providing new opportunities for them to collaborate, exercise their creativity, better understand the company’s business strategies by applying an entrepreneurial mindset, and push themselves to go after the tough challenges that interest them the most.

Medha Tomlinson, director of Global Biologics Research, and a member of the review committee for the 2021 TEC cycle, agrees that each year’s challenge is designed to cultivate these key traits. “The best proposals are those that involve collaboration between multiple scientists,” she says. “Drug discovery is complex and often requires a strong background in many areas to move projects forward. TEC spurs individuals to think outside the box to solve problems and provides an opportunity for growth as well as exposure to new areas.”

Celebrating 10 years of innovation

As TEC celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, it has received more interest than ever before. Our review committee selected 15 proposals from a pool of 43 applications – double the number of projects chosen last year. As the winners kick off their research, our leaders are urging them to be even bolder than before.

“We encourage TEC participants to think about cross-disciplinary ideas,” says Head of Research Steve Hitchcock. “It's a wonderful opportunity to reach across functions and disciplines. And their ideas could lead us to the next big candidate and discovery.”

TEC is just one of many innovation-drivers within Takeda. Learn more about our innovative culture.