BBA 2020 Winner Profile: Company of the Year – AstraZeneca Japan

Written by Sterling Content
December 17, 2020


Photo credit: Calderwood Images in partnership with Sterling Content

Written by Sterling Content
December 17, 2020

AstraZeneca Japan (AZKK) has made British Business Awards history by scooping the Company of the Year trophy for three consecutive years. The pharmaceutical firm fought off five nominees to receive the coveted gong at the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan’s virtual gala on November 5.

Esteemed judges within the UK–Japan community, hailing from backgrounds in government, business and the not-for-profit sector, selected AZKK for showing resilience, excellence and innovation in its operations in the past 18 months.


Tackling COVID-19

Central to AZKK’s work this year has been responding to the global pandemic. As the novel coronavirus broke out and began to spread, AZKK committed itself to do whatever possible to combat it.

“We were thinking how we could be our best, to do whatever we can do, and do it now. That is what we have been trying to do in Japan and globally,” says Stefan Woxstrom, president and representative director of AZKK.

AZ’s first step was to examine its global inventories. It found an excess of 9 million masks, purchased for use in its factories and laboratories, and began to distribute them worldwide, including 300,000 to Japan.

AZKK spoke with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Tokyo Medical Association to help address the limitations of their monitoring of people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms in hotels. Patients were being asked to record their condition on paper, which was then faxed to a central point and analysed. AZKK replaced this system with an app it had developed for remote monitoring of cancer patients. The app delivered the COVID-19 patients’ information to a central database which sent doctors notifications as symptoms developed, thereby streamlining the monitoring process.

Finally, and most important, AZ is working with the University of Oxford to deliver 3 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine globally, at cost price.

“We want to make sure there is equitable access to the vaccine across the world, that it is affordable for as many nations as possible,” says Woxstrom.

The firm is manufacturing the doses by taking three steps: using all its manufacturing facilities worldwide, teaming up with partners for collaboration and upscaling capacity.

At AZKK, says Woxstrom, efforts are focused on “making sure there is a stable supply of vaccine in Japan.” To this end, a “full-tech transfer” from the UK is underway to enable full-scale manufacturing in Japan in collaboration with four companies.

AZKK’s plants in Japan will produce 120 million doses of the vaccine, enough for 60 million people. Woxstrom says plans are in place to begin delivery as soon as regulatory approval is achieved in Japan.


New product launches 

Alongside its efforts to combat COVID-19, AZKK is working “at full speed” in clinical trials and development of other medicines and treatments, says Woxstrom.

In autumn, it launched an innovative product to treat small cell lung cancer as well as a treatment for hypercalcemia, a potentially deadly condition caused by too much calcium in the blood. The firm has also developed medicine to tackle an area of heart failure. Due to the pandemic, each launch has been delivered online, a new method for AZKK.

Woxstrom says the team has been “motivating and mobilising” itself in the face of the challenges of the online launches by keeping mindful of patients’ urgent need for these treatments.


Driving innovation

AZKK’s mission is “to become the number one pioneer in improving Japanese patients’ lives though innovation.” According to Woxstrom, a key part of that is “patient-centric business models.” In the case of a cancer patient, for example, the focus should be on early diagnosis—to help ensure a better prognosis—rather than medicines.

This year, the firm launched (meaning innovation, infusion, Japan), an innovation ecosystem for patients comprised of 21 member companies who wish to collaborate with each other. Woxstrom says this spirit of working together is vital to find solutions for patients, particularly considering Japan’s rapidly ageing society.


Diversity and inclusion

Under AZKK’s diversity and inclusion targets, 2020 has also seen AZKK improve its representation of women in management, up from 26% to 32% year on year. With 3,300 employees in Japan, Woxstrom admits that many more women are needed to achieve “diversity in decision-making,” but says AKKK is on target to become “a very balanced company” in the coming years, thanks in part to efforts to grow leaders from within.

It is an area that Woxstrom is passionate about because he believes innovation is the product of diversity. He is also driving a “speak-up culture” that empowers every employee to share their opinions. This year, all senior management gave up their offices to work alongside different team members daily and facilitate better communication among all employees.

“We are tearing down barriers, and hierarchies are disappearing. People stop to talk and say their opinions,” he says, adding that this will help the firm achieve its mission. “Innovation is not for a few people; everyone has something important to say, and we need innovation if we are going to move fast.”


Pushing capabilities 

At the start of 2020, AZKK made a commitment to be carbon zero in its entire operations by 2025 and, despite COVID-19, has reached its environmental targets for this year.

Its factories are now carbon zero, apart from a connection to a diesel engine used for back-up power in the case of an earthquake, which will be replaced with a carbon neutral option in time. By 2021, its offices will be carbon neural, too. Hybrid vehicles used by sales representatives are being slowly replaced with electric vehicles.

“Usually, these things can feel extraordinary if you don’t have time, but we never gave up,” says Woxstrom, adding that the employees pushed themselves in so many areas this year. “We could stretch targets, launch new medicines, deal with COVID and think about the environment—that’s what I’m really proud of.”

With everyone in AZKK “working so hard every year,” he says it “feels really good to win a British Business Award as it is recognition for everyone in the company.”