We at Amgen are saddened by the passing of William K. (Bill) Bowes. It is not an overstatement to say that without Bowes, there would be no Amgen. He was our founding shareholder and first chairman and treasurer—but above all, he was the visionary whose idea it was to launch the biotech company that would become Amgen. The implications of this are profound for our employees, our communities, and the millions of patients reached by our medicines around the world.
The son of an investment banker father and a physician mother (one of the first women to graduate from Stanford School of Medicine), Bowes was born in the 1920s in San Francisco. He stayed in the area, attending Stanford, but his education was interrupted by service in World War II and just after—first in the Philippines, and later as part of the occupying force in Japan in the 1940s. He would go on to graduate from Stanford with an economics degree and from Harvard with an MBA.
An Early Technology Visionary and Venture Capitalist
Bowes worked for 25 years for the investment bank Blyth & Co. Inc. in San Francisco with a keen eye towards emerging technologies. While at Blyth, he was involved in what was arguably the first biotechnology company, Cetus, and was a member of its board from 1972 to 1978.
In the late 1970s, Bowes made a name for himself as an astute venture capitalist. In 1980, he took his learnings from Cetus and made a few investments with friends—including in Amgen and two other successful “applied” companies: Applied Microcircuits and Applied Biosystems.
Founding Amgen: “Biotechnology to Relieve Human Suffering”
Bowes retired from the Amgen board in 2002, and was deeply proud of the company and our mission to serve patients. As a biotech pioneer, he predicted early on that this new technology had the potential to make a major difference in the world. In an interview regarding his work with Amgen, he once stated, “That’s what appealed to me—using biotechnology to relieve human suffering.”
As Bowes assembled Amgen, he and other biotech pioneers faced the need to create a new science-based business paradigm. “We didn’t know where the technology was going to lead us,” said Bowes. “But we wanted to take that leap.” And, it was a leap worth taking as Amgen's medicines have since helped millions of patients around the world.
He went on to start U.S. Venture Partners in 1981. Since its founding, the company has raised billions of dollars and invested in hundreds of companies, including Sun Microsystems, New Focus, Check Point Software Technologies, and others. This work has, in turn, created more than 100,000 jobs.
Big Impact, Low Profile Philanthropist
Bowes' investment success was matched by his passion for philanthropy. As a philanthropist, he pursued a decades-long devotion to improving health by advancing science. In 1991, he created the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, which has discreetly donated hundreds of millions of dollars to various causes. Bowes was a strong supporter of education, acting as a major contributor to science and medical programs at universities across the country, as well as youth efforts and environmental programs. He also continued his focus in medical research, making large contributions towards work in cancer, asthma and Alzheimer's disease. Together with his wife, Ute, Bowes was an active member of the San Francisco arts and cultural community as well.
Beyond these accomplishments, we will miss Bowes as a friend. In his office, on the Amgen campus, at our annual shareholder meetings, his manner was always the same—humble, supportive and upbeat. Not one to look back, he was always interested to know where Amgen was going next.
Our thoughts are with Bowes' family, especially his wife, Ute, and his wide circle of friends. At Amgen locations globally, we will mark the passing of this great man—a man who quietly bettered the lives of untold millions around the world.