There probably aren't too many companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange with an operating history going back over 230 years that are virtually unknown to U.S. investors.

But that's true of Takeda Pharmaceutical Company (NYSE:TAK), Japan's largest pharmaceutical company, which was founded in 1781 and listed its American Depository Shares on the New York Stock Exchange just over a year ago.

Takeda has partnerships with a number of U.S. pharmaceutical companies, and made headlines in 2018 when it announced plans for a massive acquisition of Shire that was completed about a year ago. Is Takeda an overlooked gem that investors should wake up to, or should they avoid it?

Pills and pill bottle.

Image source: Getty Images.

Takeda's business

Takeda operates in five therapeutic areas that it considers its core businesses. The company's largest segment  is gastrointestinal medicines, at 21% of sales in the first three quarters of fiscal 2019, and is delivering healthy sales growth, up 10%.

The big winner in the segment is Entyvio for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). Entyvio sales are growing at 35%, and beat AbbVie's mega-blockbuster Humira in a head-to-head trial in UC last year.

Unfortunately, Takeda's second largest business hasn't been faring so well recently.

The company's rare disease portfolio, 20% of total sales, has declined 11% in fiscal 2019. Takhzyro for hereditary angioedema is growing well, but not enough to overcome losses by older drugs for the same condition. Competition is hurting its drugs for blood diseases, and a recall of Natpara for hypoparathyroidism has the company assuming zero U.S. sales for that drug in 2020.

Takeda is getting about 5% sales growth from its immunoglobulin products and neuroscience portfolios, but one area that has the potential for accelerating growth is oncology, which is growing 7% year-over-year and makes up 13% of sales.

Ninlaro, an oral medication for multiple myeloma, is still in its early days, and is growing sales at 29% this year. A partnership with cancer specialist Seattle Genetics to co-develop and commercialize that company's lead drug, Adcetris, should be a potent growth driver for years.

Growth hopes are pinned on the Shire acquisition

Put those segments together, along with a large part of the company's business (21% of sales) that the company says is outside of its focus areas and is shrinking at a double-digit rate, and the growth picture at the moment looks anemic. Excluding the effect of the Shire acquisition, revenue year-to-date has declined 1.2% and operating profit is down 43%.

Takeda is banking on a reshaping of the company as it integrates Shire to get it on track for long term growth. It plans to take out $2 billion in costs, divest $10 billion in non-core assets that are pulling down its growth rate, and pay off much of the debt it took on to buy Shire.

That effort seems to be progressing faster than the company had expected. The plan has been for the Shire integration to complete by March 2024, but the company surprised the market this month when it said in its third quarter report that it expected to make a small operating profit for the full year after earlier forecasting a $1 billion operating loss.

A successful execution of its plan would help Takeda invest in research and development in its focus areas, where it already has a significant number of drug candidates in the clinic.

The company has six new drugs in trials that it expects to get approved in the next two years, and another eight that could win approvals in fiscal 2023 and 2024. Together, Takeda thinks these drugs have the potential to deliver more than $10 billion in aggregate peak sales, compared with the $30 billion in revenue the company expects to generate this year .

Steer clear for now

Takeda has a long and illustrious past, but it's the company's future that investors need to be wary of. Whereas it has the potential to get on the path for long term growth, most growth stock investors should take a pass for now and wait for the dust to settle.

The integration of Shire is a massive undertaking, and it's not clear what the growth picture will be when the effort completes four years from now. In the meantime, sales growth is flat, and any profit growth will be coming from cost cutting.

Takeda does pay a generous 4.3% dividend yield, but conservative investors can find nice payouts from companies that have more certain growth in their future.