CEO’s Advice to Amgen’s Summer Interns? Get "Fired Up" About Biotech

In a session with our summer interns, Amgen CEO Bob Bradway shared his thoughts on how to build a meaningful career and answered questions about what it’s like to lead one of the world’s leading biotech companies.

Work on things that matter. Do work that you enjoy. Capitalize on what makes you unique. Challenge the status quo. And don’t wait to make an impact on the world.

This was the career advice that Amgen CEO Bob Bradway recently offered to the company’s 180 summer interns and co-ops from around the U.S. in a virtual session held on July 13.

In a talk entitled “Being in the Right Place at the Right Time,” Bradway made the case that the right place for talented people to put this advice into practice is Amgen – and that there’s never been a better time to do so than right now.

What makes Amgen the right place? Bradway noted that the company has a long, proud tradition of delivering life-changing medicines to patients suffering from serious diseases – and strong prospects to continue doing so in the future. He added that Amgen combines the resources of a large pharmaceutical company – investing more than $20 billion in R&D over the past five years, for example – with the entrepreneurial spirit of a small, scrappy biotech startup.

And why is this the right time to be joining a world leader in biotechnology? Bradway said that we are at a special moment in history in which both the need for innovative medicines (driven primarily by a rapidly aging global population) and the ability to innovate (driven by huge advances in science and technology) have never been greater.

“We are very fired up about what we see coming in our industry,” Bradway said, “and the opportunities we think Amgen is well positioned for.”

Following his prepared remarks, Bradway opened the floor to questions. Here are a few highlights:

Marisol Cortes Rodriguez asked Bradway about the innovations at Amgen that most excite him.

Less than one year ago, Bradway responded, a subsidiary of Google used artificial intelligence to solve a challenge that had bedeviled scientists for decades: predicting the structure of nearly all the proteins in the human body, which can fold themselves into a near-infinite number of combinations. The answer matters for drug developers since a protein’s structure determines its function. “This represents a game-changing moment,” Bradway said. “It’s one that we were anticipating and were anxious to participate in. And now, in less than one year, we've adopted in our day-to-day activity many of the new technologies that were used to achieve that breakthrough.” He added that Amgen is already seeing meaningful benefits in terms of opportunities to accelerate drug development and improve success rates.

Oluwabanke Shodimu asked about the challenges Bradway faces as a CEO.

“There are so many diseases that we want to make a difference in,” Bradway said, “and so many people who aren't benefiting from therapies that we already have approved. We need to ensure that we are all aligned and focused on the same priorities, and doing everything we can to educate physicians, patients, and payers about how our medicines can make a difference in the world. It's a never-ending challenge.”

Miriam Hagan asked how Bradway’s previous experience in the financial services industry helped prepare him to lead Amgen.

Bradway noted that he came to Amgen after 20 years with Morgan Stanley, where he advised healthcare companies on their capital allocation strategies. “I came with a different background from most of my peers at Amgen,” he said. “I tried to harness that experience and make sure that I was contributing different ideas to our discussions, based on that background.”

Martin Keyt asked about how Amgen approaches risk taking.

Bradway noted that biotechnology is inherently a high-risk business in which 90% of the potential new medicines that make it into human testing ultimately fail. “We take very big risks,” he said, “and hopefully they have the potential of producing big benefits for patients who are suffering from serious diseases.” Bradway added that “there is a category of risks that we don't take, and those are compliance risks. We don't take any shortcuts when it comes to our compliance responsibilities.”

Shannon Zhuang asked Bradway to share the biggest lesson he’s recently learned.

Bradway responded that the rapid pace of change in the industry requires a level of agility that can be daunting given that Amgen is in a long lifecycle business where getting a medicine to market requires an average of 10 to 15 years. “Things that seemed like wise undertakings can seem less well-founded as a result of technology changes that happen literally overnight,” he said. “This is a humbling role made all the more so by the incredible breakthroughs that are happening.”

Kartik Saigal asked Bradway how he would make the most of the experience if he were an Amgen intern today.

Bradway said he would “try to learn as much as I could about the enterprise, its mission, its values, and the strategy that it is following to deliver on its commitments.” He advised the interns to use their assignments to “get a feel for the breadth of roles that are available inside Amgen, and to decide whether this is indeed a company doing things that really matter in the world. And then, see whether you feel fired-up and excited about what you could do here.”

“It was an honor to be able to speak directly with someone as accomplished and successful as Bob,” said Kartik, a rising senior at the Georgia Institute of Technology and an intern in Amgen’s Drug Substance Technology team. “As Bob’s own career path shows, there are many non-traditional routes for landing in senior leadership roles in biotech.”

“I’ve loved working at Amgen this summer,” added Zachary Zemmel, a rising University of Chicago junior who is interning at the company’s Cambridge, Massachusetts innovation center. “I’m learning a ton about synthetic chemistry and the pharmaceutical industry more generally. I’ve particularly enjoyed working here because of how friendly everyone has been and how excited people are to share their work.”

Did you know that Bob Bradway is active on LinkedIn? Click here to follow him and see his latest posts.

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