Amgen CEO Bob Bradway highlighted the company's biopharmaceutical innovation – and especially its work leveraging human genetic and other data to advance new treatments for disease targets long considered "undruggable" – at two high-profile healthcare conferences: the Galien Golden Jubilee Forum, held in New York on October 28, and the Reuters Total Health Summit, which took place virtually on November 15-18.
This year's Galien Forum marked the 50th anniversary of the Prix Galien, which was created in 1970 to advance biopharmaceutical innovations that serve humanity. Bradway participated in a CEO-level panel discussion exploring "Where Will New Drug Therapies and Vaccines Come From?" Moderated by Pfizer R&D head Mikael Dolsten, the panel included Arvinas CEO John Houston, Biotechnology Innovation Organization CEO Michelle McMurry-Heath, IQVIA Chief Medical and Scientific Officer Jeffrey Spaeder, and Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos. At Reuters Total Health, Bradway participated in a keynote conversation with Reuters healthcare correspondent Deena Beasley on "Biopharmaceutical Innovation and the Promise of the 'Biocentury'."
"One of the reasons we are investing as heavily as we are in human genetics and in the associated 'omics' around the human genome," Bradway remarked at the Galien Forum, "is to understand at the molecular level which diseases we might be able to address utilizing the new platforms and be able to say to patients across different disease areas, 'we think we have an innovation that may work for your specific disease.' I think we are on cusp of being able to do that quite widely." He added that Amgen sees opportunities in oncology, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation "to use our genetic insights to help us decide where to do clinical experiments that we think the genetics tells us are likely to be successful."
Bradway expressed confidence that Amgen's growing expertise in "proximity biology" – the development of therapies that can engage two or more protein targets simultaneously to induce a desired biological effect – "will enable us to take a lot of targets that were considered undruggable and render them druggable." Asked to identify what achievement he would most like to celebrate in five years' time, he responded that "I hope in 2026 somebody asks what we meant in 2021 when we said 'undruggable,' because I'm hopeful that some of these new technology platforms render that question irrelevant."
Bradway expanded on this point at the Reuters Total Health Summit, commenting that human genetic and other omic data "give us an advantage over relying just on preclinical models." He attributed the biopharmaceutical industry's relatively low R&D success rates to the fact that "historically we haven't had very good proxies for how drugs will behave in humans before we actually take those drugs." Human genetics, proteomics, and transcriptomics give Amgen the means "to identify in advance which therapies or which biologic pathways have a higher likelihood of succeeding based on the fact that we can find particular perturbations of those pathways through human genetics and then leverage that information to hopefully have a better success rate in developing new therapies."
Citing the rapid development of new vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19, Bradway told his Reuters audience that "the power of our innovative ecosystem has been on full display for the world to see." He warned, however, that government price controls on innovative medicines could "destroy the very system which is bringing forward the innovation that we need." A better approach would be to enact policies to improve patient access, such as measures to cap the out-of-pocket costs paid by patients for innovative medicines.
"It's not a case of having too much innovation," Bradway concluded. "We don't have enough innovation. That's why people are suffering from chronic diseases at such extraordinary rates in our society. These are diseases that we can prevent or delay by adopting innovative medicines. So our focus is on trying to advance innovative medicines and policies that will help favor their adoption."
Amgen R&D Head David Reese amplified Bradway's comments in his own remarks during a live question-and-answer session at the Reuters Summit. Asked how COVID-19 will shape drug development, Reese observed that Amgen and other innovators are now "bringing the trial to the patient rather than the patient to the trial," and predicted that "virtualization of clinical trials will be an enduring change that we're seeing coming out of the pandemic." He added that Amgen is generating massive amounts of human genetic data for use in predicting protein structures, reducing development timelines, and increasing success rates. "The challenge," he concluded, "is integrating [that data], aggregating it, and most importantly analyzing it… It's an absolute revolution and it's playing out in real time right now."
To learn more about the principle of induced proximity click here to view a short animated video narrated by Ray Deshaies, Amgen senior vice president of Global Research. You can also listen to Amgen's podcast series Undruggable to learn how the new wave of discovery, led by new types of multispecific medicines, has the potential to radically alter our concept of how drugs can work and pave the way for new solutions.