The chief executive of Millennium Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge resigned suddenly Thursday after its Japanese parent company, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., moved to fold Millennium’s big Cambridge-based cancer research unit into corporate research and development.
Deborah Dunsire, 50, who has been president and chief executive of Millennium since 2005 and helped engineer its $8.8 billion sale to Takeda in 2008, is one of the best known women in the biomedical industry. She will be replaced as Millennium’s president by Anna Protopapas, 48, a longtime colleague who has worked at Millennium for 16 years, most recently as executive vice president and head of global business development, according to Takeda.
The move was disclosed in a statement issued from Takeda headquarters in Osaka, Japan. Separately, the Japanese drug giant reported operating income had been weaker than hoped for and that it was moving forward with an efficiency plan that includes integrating Millennium’s research center, which had overseen worldwide cancer drug development.
As part of that move, Cambridge researchers will report to Tachi Yamada, the new Takeda chief medical and scientific officer, who is based in Deerfield, Ill., outside Chicago. Yamada was hired by Takeda last year after leading global health programs at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was not immediately clear what Takeda’s move means for the 1,200 local employees of Millennium, who are scattered in about a half-dozen buildings throughout University Park.
Commercial, financial, and administrative functions will report to Protopapas, who will retain her business development role at Millennium. The company is best known for Velcade, a first-of-its-kind treatment for multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. After the 2008 takeover, Takeda added jobs at Millennium and moved its own cancer research programs under Millennium’s umbrella.
In an interview, Protopapas said Millennium would remain “the oncology hub” for Takeda, though she acknowledged there may be some job cuts. She also said Takeda may add more resources in the long term as it taps the talent of the Boston area.
“Oncology remains very important to Takeda,” Protopapas said. “The pipeline here remains very important to Takeda. So we will continue to have a very significant organization here in Cambridge. We will have to make some decisions to align what needs to be aligned and eliminate duplication, but there are no plans to move wholesale operations to Chicago.”
Millennium spokeswoman Manisha Pai said the new name of the local research group will be Takeda Cambridge US. The Millennium name, well known in the biopharmaceutical field, will be retained for sales and marketing in the United States, she said. Pai said the decision to integrate Millennium’s research into Takeda’s was made by Yasuchika Hasegawa, chief executive of Takeda, as part of a broader move to boost profits and efficiency.
“Deborah wanted to run a fully integrated research, discovery, and commercial organization,” Pai said. “That role no longer exists, so she made the difficult decision to leave the company.”
Dunsire was not available to discuss her decision Thursday, said Pai.
Protopapas said Dunsire “made a personal decision that it was time to move on” despite an invitation from Hasegawa to take another position within Takeda. “Deborah was a phenomenal contributor, and she will be missed by me and the entire organization,” Protopapas said.
Millennium in February signed a lease to anchor a 250,000-square-foot office and lab complex at 300 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, outside Central Square, after the City Council approved the zoning petition, which had been stalled since last summer. The six-story building will serve as a “front door” to the University Park development behind Massachusetts Avenue.
Protopapas said Millennium plans to honor that lease as it moves forward.