Amgen: Focused on genetics and disease biology to “pick the winners”
It is not a new face for Amgen that potential partners will see at BIO-Europe Spring®. Instead the change is in the eye, the way the large team of scouts, scientists and business development executives will be looking at proposed projects.
The world’s largest biotech is decidedly on the hunt in Barcelona, according to Iain Dukes, VP of External Research and Development at Amgen.
“We are open for business, we are looking for deals,” he said. “We have significant capabilities on the commercial side as well as on the R&D side. We are always on the lookout for late stage programs, particularly programs that can launch in the 2014 to 2016 timeframe. But we are also searching for early innovation, for novel solutions in both the early and late stage. ”
So far, this sounds like the Amgen we have come to know, ready to hear from partners who can help move along a broad late-stage pipeline while remaining opportunistic about acquiring external innovation to complement internal capabilities and programs.
Yet in early February, Amgen rolled out a shift in its strategic priorities that Sean Harper, MD, Executive VP of Research and Development, said includes demonstrating the value of medicines, following a “biology first” approach, and identifying and validating targets through human genetics.
Genetic validation to reduce attrition
“We are going away from our peers who have a ‘shots on goal’ mentality to drug discovery,” explained Dukes. “The analogy comes from football where the more you shoot, the more likely you will be to score a goal. This assumes that your strikers can shoot straight, and not everyone has shown they have a sure foot. We are moving to what we call a strategy to ‘pick the winners’ where we will use human genetics validation as a mechanism to reduce the attrition of drugs in late stage development.”
Dukes pointed to recent successes in the Amgen pipeline as examples of this new approach. Both the PCSK9 antibody and the Sclerostin antibody have very strong human disease validation, he said; clinical data to date suggests these molecules have the potential to work well.
“We are emboldened by those findings and want to make sure that the bulk of the pipeline, moving forward, will have some basis in human genetics,” he said.
To consider early stage programs, the biology must be compelling, he said. Most often, the encouraging data in such programs comes from animal model validation where there is an issue with productivity of this type of data. Where a potential partner can demonstrate a relevance for human disease, and especially a suggestion of genetic validation, “this is going to be helpful,” he said.
Beyond biomarkers in oncology
According to Peter Sandor, VP Global Marketing at Amgen, moving away from the broad shots on goal paradigm brings a sharper focus on an understanding of disease biology and the target-disease relationship.
A featured panelist for the Therapeutic Insight: Oncology panel discussion Monday afternoon at BIO-Europe Spring, Sandor said Amgen’s perspective is wider than a search for biomarkers.
“It is really understanding what drives the cancer, and then identifying the best solution that will serve this target, whether it is a small molecule or a large molecule or an ABC mechanism,” he said. Amgen has proven to be successful in commercializing and bringing innovative solutions to the patients.
“Amgen’s R&D strategy and deep commercial, regulatory and access expertise allows us to bring drugs to patients that do not deliver incremental benefits but will really change the outcomes for given populations.
“Here it is absolutely essential to be externally focused, to cooperate with all the best minds, to bring the best technologies and knowledge to get the greatest value by combining this collaboration with our own expertise and experience in cancer,” he said.
For potential partners an increasingly important aspect of Amgen is its strong commercial capabilities in oncology, Sandor added.
“We have a deep heritage and strong footprint in the oncology market,” he said. “This makes us very interested in partnering where we can add value whether with this strong position, or with our understanding of the regulatory and payer environments.”
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