June 18, 2024
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Fresh coat of paint: Amgen’s new mural pays homage to diversity in biotech

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Janet Franklin, Amgen’s vice president of global development, speaking at the June 21 event. (PCBT Staff)

Update: A previous version of this article mistakenly quoted Janet Franklin instead of Sarah Van Driesche.

When Amgen scientist Sarah Van Driesche attended an awards program at Rockefeller University in New York prior to the pandemic, she took note of a mural depicting top scientists from the institute.

A casual remark about “what’s with up the dude wall” from Van Driesche spurred the idea of how Amgen’s own mural on the Thousand Oaks campus celebrates science.

Janet Franklin, Amgen’s vice president of global development, led a team that proposed changes to Amgen’s own and somewhat dated mural dedicated to celebrating science.

And two years later, after a process in which Amgen and other scientists cast ballots to select a wide range of nominees, Amgen dedicated an updated mural that celebrates the diversity that has gone into creating the modern biotech industry.

“I know first-hand what’s means to be told you don’t belong,” Franklin, who is Black, told around 400 Amgen staff who attended the event.

She said that at Amgen she was proud to be “part of a team that values diversity.”

Among those celebrated are David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate and former Amgen Board Chair, Fu-Kuen Lin, who led the Amgen team that cloned the gene that led to the production of its anemia drug Epogen and Mary-Claire King, who identified that the BRAC1 gene was closely identified with breast cancer.

In his remarks, Dave Reese, executive vice president of research and development, said that Amgen’s work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities has helped its effort to train a more diverse group of scientists who bring differing points of view to science.

He said that a newer initiative to broaden the diversity of participants in clinical trials has been widely adopted among pharma companies who have learned that attacking disease requires a pool of participants that reflects the population as a whole.

He said that when Franklin and others pitched him on the idea of remaking the mural his first response was “We have to do this.”

In his comments, Baltimore said that the experiment on viruses that led to the Nobel prize took only a few weeks to complete. But the concept behind the experiment on RNA and DNA took 10 years to conceptualize, vindicating the idea that support for basic science can make a difference in everyday life.

Baltimore, an early advocate for AIDS research and funding, served on the board of Amgen for 20 years beginning in 1996.

The mural fills an entire wall of Building 15 on Amgen’s sprawling campus in Thousand Oaks. By far the largest public company based in the region, Amgen is a leader in developing and acquiring therapies that treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

The development of the Amgen campus in the early 1990s was a significant economic event for the Conejo Valley. Although it has been trimming its workforce in recent years, Amgen remains one of Ventura County’s largest employers with a headcount of around 5,000,

In recent years, several Amgen spinouts, the relocation of a large life sciences venture capital firm and additional arrivals have begun to create a hub for life sciences innovation in the greater Thousand Oaks area.

The fact that the new Amgen mural celebrates a number of scientists in life sciences who are not directly connected to the company, symbolizes not just the diversity at Amgen but how much the field of biotech influences everyday life – and the future of the regional economy. 

email: hdubroff@pacbiztimes.com