Amgen steps up efforts to serve Chinese patients
Looking back at what has happened so far in the eventful 2020, My Linh Kha, vice president and general manager of Amgen China, said that it’s been a very rich, fulfilling and unforgettable experience for her both professionally and personally.
“I feel like my life has changed for the better, and it’s been a rewarding experience to work with the best team in the industry,” she said.
Prior to China, more than 20 years of her career were spent in other parts of the world. China is special to her, because her family originally came from Guangzhou. “The opportunity came for me to live and work in China, to see where my root was, and to get involved in this amazing place,” recalled Kha. “The growth and the dynamics here were just so impressive.”
For Kha, stepping into the biotech industry was based on her strong belief in the potential of life sciences and biotech. “Looking at the impact of science on healthcare, I thought it would be worthwhile for me to make a meaningful impact on the life of others in some small way,” she said.
This was more obvious when China was hit by COVID-19. Kha said: “The world needs science now more than ever. As President Xi Jinping put it, the most powerful weapon to fight diseases is science and technology. In the biotech industry, we should keep looking for pioneering drugs and new therapies to improve the ability to cure diseases, and even to predict and prevent diseases. COVID-19 has taught us that we just can’t sit there and do nothing, and we have to address the potential diseases and illnesses of the future today.”
As a pioneer in the global biotech industry with 40 years’ experience of steering science to new therapies, Amgen has joined the fight against COVID-19. The company has been actively involved in a number of global initiatives working with industry partners to gain insights and develop potential treatments. It is also contributing through its recognized strength in manufacturing of biologic medication.
The “biology first” approach that Amgen takes enables their scientists to explore drug therapies based on the complex molecular pathways of diseases first before determining what kind of medicine, or modality. Amgen feels this is an approach mostly likely to deliver viable efficacious and safe drug candidates.
When it comes to the China market, Amgen has a portfolio catering to the needs of the country’s aging population. By 2030, 25 percent of China’s population will be over 60. Therefore, tackling population aging is essential to ensuring people’s wellbeing. Since entering China, Amgen has been committed to bringing innovative medicines to the country to address the huge unmet needs, particularly in chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, bone health, inflammation, nephrology, and so forth.
This year, under Kha’s leadership, Amgen China has taken bold steps in product launch readiness. For example, Prolia®, an innovative therapy for reducing the risk of fracture in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis, was approved in China in June.
Repatha®, another first-in-class product of Amgen, has been approved for three indications in China in the last two years, to improve the quality of life for patients with cardiovascular diseases. It’s the first PCSK9 inhibitor in China.
“Through our ongoing effort, we’re confident that we’ll be able to build a robust and complete general medicine portfolio to address the unmet needs of patients in China, especially chronic diseases,” Kha stressed. “There’s no doubt about China’s strategic importance to Amgen, given the size of the market and the unmet needs,” she noted.
“China is home to the world’s largest aging population, and has significant unmet medical needs,” said Kha. “This is where Amgen comes in. For me, its strategic importance is also based on the fact that China is also a source of innovation and skills that Amgen can learn from as well. At the same time, I think biomedicine, which is where Amgen’s strength is, is just as important to China.”
With China’s fast growing pharmaceutical market and the strong momentum demonstrated by the country’s biopharmaceutical startups, Kha is sure that both China and Amgen will remain a forerunner in this race.
Amgen takes a holistic approach to disease management. The company is collaborating with various stakeholders to address population aging and other pressing issues.
In the past, when a person had a heart attack or an old lady fell and had a hip fracture, they would go to hospital. That’s the way it is for the healthcare system both in China and around the world for generations. Amgen is trying to transform the “break and fix” mindset into a “predict and prevent” ecosystem, to improve disease prevention and control, and to stabilize medical costs.
Amgen believes that managing non-communicable diseases in turn promotes healthy aging and supports progress toward a more resilient healthcare system. The company is better positioned to create an ecosystem for chronic disease management, so that the patients and the entire society can benefit from it in the long run.
Based on its health economic estimates and modeling, the company estimates that, for US$1 spent on screening and treating osteoporosis in China, there will be a benefit of US$3.4 in return.
As such, Amgen recently joined hands with the China Women’s Development Foundation (CWDF) to launch the Health Education Project for Postmenopausal Women, which is designed to enhance the prevention of osteoporosis and bone fragility.
This approach will generate the same benefits for many other non-communicable diseases. When it comes to cardiovascular diseases, for every dollar spent on medicines for patients with congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, 3-10 dollars can be saved for ER visits and hospitalization.
As part of the effort to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular events for patients through preventative measures, Amgen provided support for the China Cardiovascular Association to approved the Chinese ASCVD Prevention and Control Center in July 2019.
With approximately 4 million people diagnosed with cancer and 2.3 million deaths from cancer each year, the demand for new anticancer drugs in China is particularly strong. To address this demand, Amgen is also expanding its oncology presence in China through strategic collaboration to make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of cancer patients.
Amgen announced that it acquired a 20.5 percent stake in BeiGene for approximately US$2.8 billion in cash in January.
Under the partnership agreement, BeiGene will commercialize Amgen’s XGEVA® (denosumab), KYPROLIS® (carfilzomib) and BLINCYTO® (blinatumomab) in China. Additionally, Amgen and BeiGene will jointly advance 20 medicines from Amgen’s oncology pipeline in China and globally.
When commenting on China’s booming biopharmaceutical industry and local startups, Kha said that this allows Amgen to leverage its expertise to collaborate with local partners on win-win terms.
“Another important point I want to make is that, although the rise of local players will increase competition, we don’t worry about that, as this will simply push us to do better and go faster,” she said, adding that Amgen will strengthen collaboration with local players to leverage their local expertise, resources, and understanding of local conditions.
Amgen China has also increased tenfold since 2012 to more than 700 people this year. As business grows, the team will continue to expand, probably even faster.
“At Amgen, our people are what we stand for,” said Kha. “As we continue to increase investment in China, I believe our potential is unlimited, and this will open up new possibilities for our people. Our top priority is to make sure that we attract and retain the best people by giving them the best workplace that empowers them to grow with Amgen.”
Kha said that she has an open-door mindset for management, and she’s been encouraging employees to talk openly and frankly and facilitate more dialogue.
Given the changes in China’s healthcare industry, to better fulfill its mission of serving patients, Amgen China is transforming the organization to become more agile, efficient and excellent, and above all, to put patients first.
Amgen China is also dramatically changing how it operates to embrace the changes in the industry, and to thrive in the overwhelming wave of going digitisation. The company is in the midst of a transformation journey toward a digitally empowered organization with truly agile operations. For example, it has launched a project to improve digital capabilities and leverage digital infrastructure to enhance customer engagement and training for healthcare engagements with professionals. “Digital capabilities enable us to better inform customers and move faster to serve patients,” she said.
Looking ahead, Kha believes that Amgen will become one of the best and most respected biopharmaceutical companies in China. She also believes that her team can bring the best of Amgen to China and bring the best of China to Amgen. Amgen already has a solid strategy for China, and Kha will make it happen. “Do more, do better, because the world needs us and the work that we do,” added Kha.