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By Rocky Swift and Carl O'Donnell
TOKYO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Takeda Pharmaceutical Co booked a surprise operating profit and forecast that income would triple this business year as hefty acquisition costs related to last year's $59 billion Shire takeover recede.
Takeda also said it could start clinical trials in July for its plasma-derived therapy for COVID-19, initially called TAK-888, according to plasma division President Julie Kim.
Japan's largest drugmaker estimated 355 billion yen ($3.3 billion) in operating profit for the year to March.
That compares with 100 billion yen for the year just ended - a result that beat its own 10 billion yen profit estimate and a consensus prediction of a 12.7 billion yen loss in a Refinitiv poll of 13 analysts. Sales jumped 57% to 3.3 trillion yen, led by a 29% increase in sales of its ulcerative colitis drug Entyvio.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Takeda halted the start of new drug trials except for its plasma-derived COVID-19 therapy. It then formed an alliance of 10 global plasma companies to develop a shared therapy that uses immune cells from the blood of recovered coronavirus patients.
"We realised that we could go much faster and create much more capacity and volume if we would create an alliance with our competitor," Chief Executive Christophe Weber said on a conference call after the results.
Clinical trials for the group's product will take place in the United States, Europe and Japan, Kim said.
There is a possibility that U.S. regulators will provide emergency authorization if early data is strong, but it is still unclear when the product will be broadly available, Kim said.
The plasma companies in its alliance will assist in manufacturing the product, Kim added.
The Shire acquisition, completed in January 2019, expanded Takeda's pipeline and diversified its global sales, with about half now coming from the United States. But it also saddled the drugmaker with a large debt pile.
To reduce debt, Takeda has pledged to dispose of $10 billion worth of non-core assets. It has divested $7.7 billion so far, with the latest being the sale of over-the-counter and prescription products to Denmark-based Orifarm Group for about $670 million.
Takeda is looking to sell its Japanese OTC business for around 400 billion yen ($3.72 billion), Nikkei Business reported last month. Weber said that report was speculation, but acknowledged that "we are not an OTC company."
Takeda is focusing on five key business areas: oncology, gastroenterology, neuroscience, rare diseases, and plasma-derived therapies. The company told investors in November it expected to launch 14 new products through fiscal 2024 that combined would deliver about $10 billion in peak yearly sales.
Ahead of the results, Takeda's shares rose 1.2% in Tokyo versus a 0.5% slide for the broader market.
($1 = 107.1200 yen)
(Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Jacqueline Wong and Richard Chang)