As Japan moved to fully lift Covid-19 restrictions at the end of March, the country’s top chief executives said the lessons from the pandemic will be longer-lasting.

“The ongoing threat of Covid-19 throughout 2021 reinforced for me the fact that improving human health around the world is an essential part of sustainable social development,” said Sunao Manabe, chief executive of Daiichi Sankyo. Manabe was the top-scoring chief executive in the biotech industry in Institutional Investor’s 2022 All-Japan Executive Team survey, as voted for by buy- and sell-side participants. 

Manabe says Japanese pharmaceutical companies have much to learn from early delays in the development and production of coronavirus vaccines in the country. Daiichi Sankyo was the first company to develop an mRNA vaccine in Japan, and the first in the world to use its proprietary cationic lipid, which it believes improves the safety of the shot. With support from the Japanese government, the company is developing a vaccine that targets a specific receptor binding domain of the novel coronavirus spike protein, which it hopes will be more effective and safer than other companies’ mRNA vaccines, which target the entire length of the spike protein. Daiichi Sankyo’s vaccine is being developed for general use by the end of 2022.

Manabe says that cross-sector collaboration will become increasingly commonplace, especially as companies leverage data to advance their work and enter into partnerships with tech companies. “This is an ecosystem where various stakeholders collaborate at deeper levels, including individual patients, medical institutions, data providers, [and] tech companies,” he said. Unprecedented availability of healthcare data has been particularly effective in developing new drugs to combat breast cancer at Daiichi Sankyo, he said.

It’s this potential for the innovation and collaboration forged during the pandemic to inform other areas of research that chief executives say is really exciting. “There have been many lessons learned throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, but in particular it is my hope that we can apply the same level of speed, precision, and industry-wide coordination to solve other global health crises, like climate change,” said Christophe Weber, president and chief executive of Takeda, who ranked second in the biotech and pharmaceuticals sector as voted for by sell-side participants. Weber said global health crises will become more frequent in an era of rising temperatures, and that companies, industries, and governments must work together to advance science and take collective action in order to tackle the climate crisis. “Climate change cannot be solved by one company alone,” he said.

In the meantime, companies still have to combat more mundane business challenges. At Shin-Etsu Chemical Corp., which has recently developed a liquid silicone rubber for use in electric vehicles, semiconductors, and other electronics, meeting customer demand amid supply chain disruptions is the key challenge for this year, according to chief executive Yasuhiko Saitoh, who ranked as the No. 2 CEO in the chemicals sector.

Shigenobu Nagamori, the founder, director, and chairman of Nidec and the top-ranking chief executive in the electronics sector, also pointed to supply chain risks as one among a plethora of challenges facing Japan’s chief executives this year. “Uncertainty of the business environment includes the spread of Covid-19, material price increase, supply chain disruption, and increase of geopolitical risk,” he said. Nidec is working on diversifying production sites and its customer base, while changing the design or materials used in products to combat rising prices for raw metals. “Nidec recognizes the supply of products [are essential to] meeting clients’ demand,” Nagamori said.

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