Standing at a podium in front of an old black-and-white photo depicting approximately 100 sheep being herded across a rural intersection in Southern California by a machete-wielding farmer, David Piacquad, senior vice president of Business Development, launched into his pitch about Amgen, speaking to a room of biotechnology innovators and potential partners at the 2014 BIO International Convention in San Diego, California.
"Amgen was started in 1980,” he said, noting that the photo behind him was what the site of Amgen’s Thousand Oaks, California, headquarters looked like many years earlier. “The company was founded by venture capitalists Bill Bowes, scientist George Rathmann and several others. They literally raised tens of thousands of dollars to start Amgen. This is basically like checking between the sofa cushions for change in order to cobble this company together. When you think about some of the startups today, raising $100 million in their first round, that’s a pretty striking difference.” From here, he went on to describe how Amgen has since grown into the world’s largest independent biotechnology company with a presence in more than 75 countries.
To an audience composed of small but eager entrepreneurial startups—those who may have a potentially game-changing innovation safely tucked away in a lab that could improve the lives of patients suffering from serious illnesses globally—a very targeted message was being sent: we were once like you.
Amgen’s Business Development transformation
In early 2014, the business development organization at Amgen made a few changes—and one important part of this change involved improving upon how Amgen interacts with potential partners. One of the first changes made involved taking its two business development groups—one in R&D and the other in finance—and making them one.
“Amgen for many years had two different business development organizations, and what we heard from the outside was that we were really confusing to work with,” said Piacquad at one point during his presentation, illustrating a shift in how his group will operate going forward. “So what we’ve done is combine these organizations, giving us a more unified face to the outside world.”
Later on in his presentation, he continued to signal this more business-friendly approach. “We have tremendous flexibility to do different styles of deals, and we’re very committed to finding the very best innovation and partnering with companies outside our walls to do that,” he said.
However, this flexibility and understanding of what it’s like to be a young, innovative company wasn’t the only message sent to potential partners at BIO. To the contrary, it was also made clear that Amgen’s longstanding expertise and growing global presence was among the key reasons why a smaller company may wish to do business with Amgen.
Deep biotechnology expertise
“When I first came to Amgen, I was intrigued by its biotechnology platform. We’ve recently built on that platform with acquisitions like Micromet, which gave us a bispecific antibody, and BioVex, which gave us an oncologic immunotherapy, both of which I see as advanced applications of biotech,” he said later in the conference while participating in a panel discussion about business development, emphasizing how Amgen’s deep biotech know-how, combined with strategic acquisitions, is advancing the biotechnology industry while offering more treatment options for patients.
Global launch pad
He also spoke of how Amgen has worked to build an international footprint three to five years ahead of the potential launch of its late-stage pipeline products, alluding to deals made in Asia, Turkey, Brazil, and elsewhere. “We’re building a global launching pad,” he said.
Since the early days of Amgen, business development has played an important role in the company’s success. Early partnerships with companies like Kirin and acquisitions like Immunex helped build Amgen into the organization it is today—and this tradition has continued in recent years with acquisitions like deCODE Genetics and Onyx Pharmaceuticals and a variety of other transactions.
Part of building on this success will involve forging relationships with small companies with potentially big innovations—and, as was clear at BIO, one way this team has begun to do this is by acknowledging that Amgen was once at a stage where some of these younger companies are at today.