"When we think about what ails the U.S. healthcare system, I hope we all conclude that what we need is more innovation, not less," said Amgen Chairman and CEO Bob Bradway during a recent interview with Bloomberg News health reporter Riley Griffin. Organized by the International Economic Forum of the Americas (IEFA), the interview was the latest installment in IEFA's "Conversation Series" with global business leaders. Previous interviews in the series featured World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, former U.S. Treasury Secretary and National Economic Council head Lawrence H. Summers, and Nancy Knight, Director of the Division of Global Health Protection at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Bradway commented that the past year has been unlike any other in Amgen's four-decade history. "In less than 12 months, we've been able to learn much about SARS-CoV-2. I'm feeling pretty optimistic about where we are. We now have several vaccines that have shown high safety and efficacy, and I believe we can now see light at the end of the tunnel." At this time last year, he added, "none of us had any idea of the scale of disruption that was in front of us. I am very proud of how my colleagues have adjusted to new conditions and kept our supply chains up and running so that we can continue to provide our medicines to patients, wherever and whenever they are needed."
Noting that COVID-19 has fostered unprecedented collaboration among biopharmaceutical companies, Bradway expressed confidence that this partnership will continue even after the pandemic recedes. "Our companies have a long history of working together to discover, develop, and manufacture medicines. We are in the midst of an incredibly exciting revolution in biological information, and it is hard for any one company to master all of the available information."
Bradway observed that Amgen is a leader in using human genetics and proteomics to understand why chronic diseases develop and how they can be treated or prevented. He noted that much of the company's $4.25 billion investment in research and development during 2020 was aimed at developing targeted therapies that can benefit particular patients based on their own genetic characteristics and risk factors.
As examples of Amgen's patient-focused innovation, Bradway noted that the company currently has two molecules in its pipeline that have received Breakthrough Therapy Designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Amgen has been in the vanguard of a number of important biologic innovations over the years," he said, "and we're trying to maintain that track record."
While acknowledging that COVID-19 has taken "a tragic, extraordinary and unacceptable toll," Bradway warned against losing sight of the continuing huge cost in lives and health exacted by cancer and by chronic conditions such as heart disease, which will claim the lives of more than 600,000 Americans during the next 12 months, and osteoporosis, which will result in bone breaks for some 400,000 Americans. "Unfortunately, our health system is oriented more toward fixing what is broken than toward predicting and preventing disease. We don't need to operate that way. We have the ability to predict who is at risk of chronic disease, and we have therapies available to prevent those at risk from developing disease." He expressed hope that "maybe the pandemic will have catalyzed all of us to recognize the value of innovation and to get more serious about preventing disease."
Asked about racial and ethnic inequities in healthcare access, Bradway commented that the pandemic "has shone a spotlight on an ugly truth in our country: we still have health disparities, as shown in the higher rates of heart disease among Black and Asian Americans. First, we need to accept that these disparities are real, and then we need to commit to doing something about them. At Amgen we're very active in improving the diversity of people enrolled in our clinical trials."
Bradway concluded by expressing confidence "that people will emerge from this experience with even more respect for the capabilities of the innovative biotechnology industry - especially in the United States, which remains the world leader in biotechnology. What better way is there to make a difference than to prevent someone from having a serious health setback such as a heart attack, stroke, or hip fracture? There are plenty of diseases for which we need better medicines than those available today, and for that we need to invest heavily in innovative research and development. The fruits of that investment will be improved healthcare, better quality of health, and longer life expectancy in the United States and around the world."
Click here to view the IEFA "Conversations Series" interview with Bob Bradway.