This 230-year-old Japanese drugmaker is trying to transform itself into ‘a 33,000 person startup’

Bruno VilletelleCourtesy Bruno VilletelleTakeda Chief Digital Officer Bruno Villetelle

Takeda, a Japanese pharmaceutical company that targets diseases like cancer and diabetes, has big plans to make itself more global and, at the same time, digital-focused.

To get a better sense of what that would look like, Business Insider spoke with Takeda’s Chief Digital Officer Bruno Villetelle about his plans to integrate technology into the heart of a 230-year-old health company.

Though no official deals have been announced yet, the company is exploring partnerships with leading tech companies like Google, Apple, and IBM Watson, in addition to smaller startups.

Takeda’s goal is to become the digital health leader by 2025, Villetelle said.

“Our CEO Christophe Weber used to say, ‘I want to transform our company into a 33,000-person start-up,'” he said. “I believe that digital can deliver this transformation.”

Building out an internal venture capital fund

Part of that transformation involves developing a fund to support ideas employees come up with. “We have kind of ‘Shark Tank’ internally with internal and external advisers, and we are listening to anyone with an idea as if they were an entrepreneur of their own stock,” Villetelle said.

That way, the ideas employees come up with get the money they need to really flesh it out. The plan is to coach the employees and bring their ideas up to speed so they have that potential to be disruptive.

Villetelle’s experience with 23andMe

One of the first interactions Villetelle had with the digital health space happened when he took 23andMe’s direct-to-consumer genetics test.

He took the original version, before the Federal Drug Administration made the company stop providing health reports (which have since relaunched in an FDA-compliant way), so Villetelle was able to learn some information about his health that he then decided to take to his doctor.

At first, Villetelle wasn’t sure how his doctor would react to his taking a genetics test without her involvement, but Villetelle said she responded quite well.

“She basically said by all means, I would love to engage in a discussion with you about it,” Villetelle recounted, saying his doctor told him they may be able to use the information from the test. That, and other factors, led to Villetelle’s desire to work with a pharmaceutical company, after a long stint at Nestle.

medical digitalREUTERS/Kham

On becoming “CEO of your health”

Right now, Villetelle’s goal is to empower consumers to become the “CEO” of their health — meaning people should be able to take charge — to some degree — on how they monitor their health. But there’s a number of ways that could be achieved, as seen in other digital health startups.

“A lot of cases when you talk about digital health in our industry is you talk about websites and mobile apps,” he said. “We have a view that it goes much beyond that.”

Because Takeda is still in its first year of an internal VC-fund model for digital ideas, Villetelle couldn’t speak to specific instances of technology being developed, but one way could be to build something he called “digital companions” that go along with some of their existing pharmaceutical drugs.

Another way could be to use all the information that’s available in fitness watches and other health-monitoring devices, and using that data for more research and development.

Regardless of what tech ideas come from of it, Villetelle seemed confident that Takeda could become the drug company that grasps a solid footing in the digital health space.

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