Earlier this week I was saddened by the news of the passing of Dr. George Rathmann whose name is synonymous with Amgen and, for all practical purposes, with the term biotechnology itself. Dr. Rathmann, who died from kidney failure, apparently had been ill for some time and was being treated with Epogen, the biotherapeutic which, ironically, is what put Amgen on the map as one of the early top-tier biotech companies.
My initial interaction with Dr. Rathmann took place during the mid-1980s when I interviewed him several times for GEN articles that discussed Amgen. I later had the opportunity, and honor, on at least two occasions to be a co-panelist with him on biotechnology roundtable discussions. Upon first encountering Dr. Rathmann, either on the phone or in person, it was immediately apparent that here was a brilliant man who exuded respect and credibility. For a journalist, one of the best things about him was that if you asked him a question he gave you a straight and clear answer. And if you still did not quite get the gist of his response he would patiently take the time to talk to you until you did.
For many years, with his trademark beard and 6 foot-5 frame, Dr. Rathmann served as the voice of the biotechnology industry. His reputation was well deserved. When he took over as CEO of Amgen in 1980 no one was quite certain which direction the company was going to take. However, under his leadership, Amgen developed and commercialized Epogen and Neupogen which subsequently became two of the bioindustry’s first blockbuster drugs. Last year, these two products accounted for almost $16 billion in revenue.
It was on the shoulders of pioneers like Dr. Rathmann that the biotechnology industry built itself into the global business that it has become today. For those of you who are new to biotech and not familiar with Dr. Rathmann and his years at Amgen, I urge you to go online and read whatever you can about him. I guarantee you will come away truly impressed with one of the founding fathers of the bioindustry of which you are now a member.