Four Insights from Amgen CEO Bob Bradway


Founded in 1980 “at the dawn of a biotechnology revolution,” Amgen has held its ground throughout its more than 40-year history with innovative approaches to drug discovery that have led to a number of breakthrough therapies. Chairman and CEO Bob Bradway recently spoke to the Money Maze podcast about the company’s bold cardiovascular ambitions, its gamble on genetics, the promise of AI and the drug pricing pressures facing the industry.


With revenues of USD 26 billion last year, a market capitalisation of some USD 130 billion, a presence in 102 countries around the world and 27 approved medicines, Amgen has proven its staying power as one of the few biotechs to survive and prosper beyond what Bradway terms “the dawn of a biotechnology revolution.” Speaking on the podcast, Bradway shared some of the approaches that have been key to Amgen’s tenacity.


Focus on Genetics

Amgen has made pursuing drug targets validated by human genetics a part of its R&D strategy and in 2012 acquired deCODE Genetics, an Icelandic company focused on understanding the link between the genome and disease susceptibility. “We’ve established ourselves as the world’s leader in using human genetics to try to understand disease and how to develop therapies that can prevent or improve the outcomes for people who are suffering from challenging disorders,” Bradway says.

We’ve established ourselves as the world’s leader in using human genetics to try to understand disease

What made deCODE Genetics particularly interesting for Amgen is Iceland’s unique population genetics-wise. Bradway explains: “Iceland is an isolated island in the middle of the North Atlantic and for hundreds, and even thousands, of years there was very little trafficking of people on and off the island. That created what we call a founder population. And so, the genetics on the island of Iceland made for a very interesting laboratory to try and understand the genetic conditions that predispose people to disease or to a life of good health.”

But Amgen’s genetics efforts extend further. “We have expanded now well beyond Iceland so we can compare what we’ve learned about the genetics of that isolated population with more diverse populations around the world.” Bradway expects genetics to have more and more of an impact on the company’s pipeline. Outside of cancer, about two-thirds of our molecules are ones which we believe are genetically validated. We’re pursuing them because we believe we have genetic evidence to suggest that if we perturb the pathway that we’re intercepting with our therapy, we can have a beneficial outcome on the disease process that we’re targeting.”


Artificial Intelligence in Drug Development

Amgen is embracing the power and possibilities offered by artificial intelligence (AI), which according to Bradway, will open the door to a new era of more rapid and profound innovation. “We’re able to deploy technology now against the huge amount of data that we generate in biology to better understand what the data are trying to tell us. And AI will help extend and improve the rate at which we’re innovating and the insights that we’re generating,” he claims.

AI will help extend and improve the rate at which we’re innovating and the insights that we’re generating

As an illustration of the impact of AI on drug discovery, Bradway cites Amgen’s use of Google’s DeepMind. “That software enables us to predict the structure of proteins. And that was a huge moment in the artificial intelligence field, but also in the field of biology because scientists there had been trying for decades to figure out how to program in such a way that you could anticipate how these large complex proteins come together and create a three-dimensional structure.”

DeepMind has proven to be a time-saver, drastically reducing development processes. “It became possible to generate a computer model for these three-dimensional structures. And so that has enabled us potentially t to cut out months and in some cases even years of work at the outset of trying to design medicines,” he sustains.


Bold Cardiovascular Ambitions

Amgen also has bold ambitions in the cardiovascular space, having recently convened the American cardiovascular disease community to align around a mission to help patients manage low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or the “bad” variety of cholesterol. At this year’s American College of Cardiology meeting, the company’s executive vice president, Global Commercial Operations Murdo Gordon claimed that Amgen would aim to halve the number of cardiovascular events in the United States by 2030.

A very important contributor to heart disease is that people are wandering around with LDL levels that are just simply too high

Bradway explains the dramatic statistics behind these ambitions: “There’s no disease that is responsible for more death and destruction on our planet than cardiovascular disease.” In addition, he illustrates the impact of LDL. “That [goal] reflects our conviction that we know what the causes of heart disease in our society today are. A very important contributor to heart disease is that people are wandering around with LDL levels that are just simply too high.”

To tackle high LDL levels, Amgen has its Repatha (evolocumab) PCSK9i inhibitor that lowers LDL-C levels by more than 50 percent. But the firm has also embarked on a number of cardiovascular health initiatives, such as its project with the CDC Foundation to expand the evidence base for cardiovascular disease risk factors. The biotech giant also continues its collaboration with the American College of Cardiology aimed at improving cholesterol testing and claims that it is contributing to removing access barriers in cardiovascular treatment through initiatives such as a co-pay card programme.


Price Pressures

Drug pricing remains a challenge for Amgen. “We face pressures globally on drug prices. And we face an incredibly competitively intense environment, which means we need to move quickly, we need to recognize that we’re in a hotly competitive field.” For Bradway these pressures are due largely to the world’s ageing demographic and a dramatic increase in the spread of lifestyle diseases. “We have chronic disease reaching levels that we’ve never seen before on this planet. As countries look at their drug budget, they see they’re going up each year. And they’re going up because the volume demand for what it is that we do is growing.”

It’s our responsibility to demonstrate to society the value of innovation

Pharma and biotech companies must adapt, says Bradway. “As an industry, we have to learn now to operate at different price points than we have historically.” But the industry must also know how to demonstrate the value of the therapies it is bringing forward. “It’s our responsibility to demonstrate to society the value of innovation. To demonstrate and to prove why it makes sense to invest in innovative new therapies and to adopt those therapies widely.”

Related Content

Latest Report