Dr. Jason Spangler, MD, MPH, FACPM, is the Executive Director, Value, Quality and Medical Policy at Amgen. Amgen is a member of the ACPM Prevention Alliance.
People often ask me “what does a preventive medicine physician do at a biotech company like Amgen?” It’s a great question. Another question that I’ve been asked recently is “what does a biotech do to help tackle a global pandemic?” Another great question. Now, these two questions might seem unrelated, but they very much are associated because the overarching question that links the two is “what can a biotech do to address a population health issue?”
Let me tell you-we can do more than you might think. As you’re seeing in the news, researchers from many biopharmaceutical companies around the world are working tirelessly to develop and deliver diagnostics, treatments and vaccines to combat COVID-19. Amgen’s researchers are among them. Amgen’s work fighting COVID-19 is rooted in three areas of proficiency and enhanced capability—genetics/genomics, development of antibodies, and the field of immunology. Amgen is also partnering with the federal government and other stakeholders and using our resources to address the pandemic.
First, Amgen is participating in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Foundation for the NIH’s (FNIH) Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) partnership. The ACTIV partnership aims to develop a collaborative framework for prioritizing vaccine and drug candidates, streamlining clinical trials, coordinating regulatory processes, and/or leveraging assets among all partners to rapidly respond to the COVID-19 and future pandemics.
Second, Amgen’s subsidiary, deCODE Genetics, alongside colleagues from Iceland's Directorate of Health and the National University Hospital published online in the New England Journal of Medicine a population-based study of the early spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (causing COVID-19 disease) in Iceland. The aim of the study was to provide as comprehensive a view as possible of how the virus spreads in a population, in this case one of 360,000 and implementing early and aggressive testing, tracking and isolation measures to contain the epidemic. The results show that roughly 0.8% of the population at large is infected with several strains or clades of the virus supporting the concern that silent carriers spread the disease. This suggests that while the efforts of the public health system have been effective so far in mitigating the spread to date, more data, including massive population screening, will be key to informing efforts to contain the virus in Iceland in the long run. This work to identify the various mutations will also be important in Amgen’s collaboration with Adaptive described below to find antibodies that are broadly effective against different strains of SARs-CoV-2 and the various mutations those strains carry.
As just mentioned, Amgen has partnered with Adaptive Biotechnologies to discover and develop fully human neutralizing antibodies to potentially prevent or treat COVID-19. The mutually exclusive collaboration brings together Adaptive’s proprietary immune medicine platform for the identification of virus-neutralizing antibodies with Amgen’s expertise in immunology and novel antibody therapy development. Adaptive will extend its high throughput platform to rapidly screen the massive genetic diversity of the B cell receptors from individuals that have recovered from COVID-19. This enables the identification of tens of thousands of naturally occurring antibodies from survivors of COVID-19 to select those that neutralize SARS-CoV-2. Amgen will then leverage its world-class antibody engineering and drug development capabilities to select, develop and manufacture antibodies designed to bind and neutralize SARS-CoV-2.
In addition to developing new treatments, a product currently on the market, Otezla® (apremilast), which is an oral treatment approved in more than 50 countries for inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, will be investigated as a potential immunomodulatory treatment in adult patients with COVID-19 in upcoming platform trials. Otezla® inhibits the activity of phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4), an enzyme found in inflammatory cells in the human body. By inhibiting PDE4, Otezla® is thought to modulate the production of inflammatory cytokines and other mediators.
Finally, in addition to the research and therapeutic areas, Amgen and the Amgen Foundation have announced an initial commitment of up to $12.5 million to support U.S. and global relief efforts to address critical needs in communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds will be used to support emergency response efforts in Amgen’s U.S. and international communities, patient-focused organizations that are mounting their own response efforts and international relief efforts by Direct Relief and International Medical Corps. The Amgen Foundation will also match donations made by Amgen staff around the globe who wish to contribute their own funds to the relief efforts. Additionally, the Amgen Foundation seeks to advance excellence in science education and inspire the next generation of innovators:
The Amgen Foundation and Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences launched LabXchange, a free online science education platform that provides users access to personalized instruction, virtual lab experiences and networking opportunities across the global scientific community.
The Amgen Foundation is the founding biology partner of the Khan Academy, a leading innovative and effective educational technology platform with over 70 million registered users across the globe.
Free online learning programs supported through both of these deep relationships are available to help students continue their science education during school closures and can be accessed via the LabXchange and Khan Academy’s online learning websites.
As you can see, biotech or biopharmaceutical doesn’t just mean clinical therapeutics or individual medicine, but can impact health at a population level, which is particularly important at a time like this. We all have a part to play. As a preventive medicine physician, I’m hopeful that Amgen and the biopharmaceutical industry’s collective efforts will be successful in helping to save lives around the world.