Interview with Ugur Gunaydin, General Director, Russia & CIS Amgen
Published on 20 November 2020 by Anna Andriyanova
Alliance Consulting: Dear Ugur, you have extensive experience in various fields of activity and regions, you have worked in countries such as the United States and Turkey. Could you tell us about yourself, how did you join Amgen? What are your impressions of working in Russia?
Ugur Gunaydin: Indeed, I have had the chance to work in different countries over my career and all of them gave me valuable experience. Moving to a new country, trying to adapt to a new culture and a new working environment is never easy, but I really love challenges like these because they make you stronger both personally and professionally.
Joining Amgen was a similar challenge. At my previous place of employment, I actually worked 12 years and I was working in the global headquarters in the United States at that time, so I had no real desire to leave. Amgen offered me a bigger challenge – to take an important role in forming a new region called Turkey, Middle East Africa to ensure Amgen’s important products reach those countries in a more efficient manner and I accepted the challenge. Certainly, the most important reason for accepting the challenge was Amgen’s commitment to science and innovation. It’s been already 5 years and I am happy that I made that decision.
It’s been now 1 year since I came to Russia. During this year, we, unfortunately, had to deal with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I am very impressed with the way the crisis was handled and how quickly the Russian healthcare industry adapted to the new reality. I think this period was a good representation of the flexibility and resilience of the country and the industry.
Alliance Consulting: Amgen is one of the first biotech companies in the world, founded in 1980. Today it is the world's largest independent biotechnology company that operates in 100+ countries. What helped the company achieve such success? What role did Amgen play in the establishment and development of the global biotechnology industry?
Ugur Gunaydin: Since the first day, Amgen helped pioneer the science of using living cells to make biologic medicines, and we helped invent the processes and equipment that built the global biotechnology industry into a leading source of medical therapies for patients. Our world-class scientists lead the field in discovering novel ways to treat serious diseases, and some of the world’s greatest scientific advances are happening now inside Amgen.
Amgen was among the first companies that realized the potential of biologics for patients and has invented many of the processes in use in the biotech industry.
40 years later – since the company's foundation as one of the first biotech start-ups of the biotech revolution – Amgen has grown into one of the largest independent biotech companies in the world. Today offices of the company operate in about 100 countries, employing more than 23,000 people and making some two dozen medicines. Our therapeutics would reach millions of patients and, in more ways than one, change the practice of medicine globally.
The company has put its stamp on the world, making drugs for chronic kidney disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, migraine, inflammation, osteoporosis, and other serious illnesses.
Alliance Consulting: Amgen positions its products as innovative. What exactly makes them so?
Ugur Gunaydin: I think the answer to that lies with the track record of Amgen to discover new mechanisms of action and first in class treatment options in different therapeutic areas. We are committed to innovation and to seizing opportunities arising from rapid advances in science and technology.
A little background about the company. After working tirelessly for over two years combing through 1983 million fragments of the human genome, a team led by a young Amgen scientist, Fu-Kuen Lin, successfully isolated and cloned the erythropoietin gene responsible for the stimulation of red blood cell production. This discovery led to one of the world's first and most successful biotechnology drugs, epoetin alfa.
One of our more recent advancements is in the area of cardiovascular disease. In 2015, we received regulatory approval for evolocumab. Evolocumab is a human monoclonal antibody that inhibits proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9). It also reduced the risk of heart attack by 27 percent and the risk of stroke by 21 percent, the FOURIER clinical study says.
Alliance Consulting: Amgen believes that the most promising drug is within us. How to bring human potential to the maximum?
Ugur Gunaydin: In 2012, Amgen acquired deCODE Genetics, an Iceland-based company with an unrivalled gene discovery platform. Amgen had also revised its R&D strategy to focus on drug targets validated by genetic or other compelling human evidence. With the help of deCODE’s database linking variants in the human genome with disease risk, Amgen is now more focused on the pursuit of therapies with large effects on serious diseases.
Human genetics offers a key approach to addressing both the complexity of biology and the industry’s R&D productivity problem.
Alliance Consulting: The development of the pharmaceutical industry and the healthcare system over the past 200 years has led to a two-fold increase in the life expectancy of people on the planet on average. Can we expect that an average person will live longer than 100 years in the second half of the 21st century thanks to Amgen's developments?
Ugur Gunaydin: I believe that the next great scientific breakthroughs will be in life sciences, using human genetic insights to solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges. At Amgen, we say we are at the dawn of the bio-century.
As biotechnology and data sciences advance at blinding speed in the bio-century, we have a responsibility as leaders in biotechnology to leverage our unique strengths to help patients around the world live healthier, happier lives. Our work in human genetics, pathway biology, and molecular engineering represent unique areas of expertise that fuel up our integrated drug discovery engine.
Alliance Consulting: The company launched its office in Russia in 2006. What has already been achieved and what goals does the company have now? Are you planning to expand your presence in the country?
Ugur Gunaydin: We have been operating in Russia for almost 15 years now. Globally, in more than 100 countries, Amgen’s goal is to make a positive impact on patients’ lives who are fighting with serious diseases like cancer and cardiological diseases.
In these 15 years, we have already established localization partnerships with different local partners in different forms and stages in the manufacturing process. We have also invested significantly in the clinical trial footprint in Russia. Globally for Amgen, Russia is among the Top 3 most active clinical trial hubs with hundreds of active sites and thousands of patients enrolled in clinical trials.
Also, Amgen’s commitment to patients does not stop with our products but also involves giving efforts, community programs, and partnerships to improve the healthcare ecosystem. Overall, we definitely do see a much improved presence in Russia for Amgen.
Alliance Consulting: And the last question. What does it mean for you to be the leader of an innovative company? What tasks do you set for yourself to achieve effective innovation management?
Ugur Gunaydin: We have a lot of gifted people in our Amgen team in Russia. Each of them have unique sets of skills and expertise. My and our leadership team’s role is to create an environment where these talented people with huge potential can be at their best all the time. To be able to do that, you need a good company culture that opens up opportunities for employees at every level to show what they are capable of in the environment which rewards innovation and continuous improvement. Therefore, we need an entrepreneurial culture where people can take calculated risks to experiment with new ideas. If the ideas do work, it’s great. Even if they fail fast, we need to learn from the experience and move on. That is our working principle at Amgen.