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Amgen headquarters in Thousand Oaks, California
The birth of a biotech giant
Amgen is founded in Thousand Oaks, California by a group of venture capitalists led by William K. Bowes, and a team of scientists organized initially by UCLA biologist Winston Salser.
The managing group lures George Rathmann, Vice-President of Diagnostics R&D at Abbott Laboratories, to become the company’s first full-time CEO. Rathmann guides the fledgling company through difficult times in the 1980s as it struggles to support its expensive research programs without product revenues. Amgen manages to stay afloat and make steady progress largely thanks to a successful initial public offering of stock in 1983 that generates proceeds of $42 million, and a partnership that Rathmann arranges with the Kirin Brewery of Japan in 1984. Amgen receives a desperately needed infusion of $12 million and access to Kirin’s expertise in fermentation processes. In return, Kirin receives rights to market Amgen products in Japan. Amgen has maintained its relationship with Kirin through the present.
In the late 1980s, in the midst of a prolonged legal battle with Genetics Institute, Inc. over rights to market recombinant erythropoietin (EPO) – in which it ultimately prevails – Amgen finds itself positioned for major commercial successes. The introduction of two blockbuster drugs in 1989 and 1991 catapult the firm into the stratosphere of billion dollar companies. After the sale of Genzyme to Sanofi-Aventis, Amgen is today the last free-standing, fully-integrated developer, manufacturer, and marketer of biotherapeutic products to have emerged from the biotech sector of the pharmaceutical industry.
In its thirty-year history, the company has been led by just three chief executives: Rathmann until 1988, Gordon Binder, the company’s first CFO, from 1988 into 2000, and Kevin Sharer from 2000 through the present.