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Dr. Jordi Martí Pi-Figueras

Former general manager of Amgen Spain-Portugal (1991-August 2012)

From surgeon to executive at one of the top global biopharmaceutical companies. He was the heart and soul of Amgen’s subsidiary in Spain and Portugal, created in 1990 in Barcelona with only three people leading the project. After a long period as director of sales, in 2003 he was named general manager of the company. After 21 years, he has left the company which is now fourth in R&D of all Amgen subsidiaries in the world and first in western Europe, with 7% of all European sales and a team of 250 professionals (50% scientists).

Amgen was founded in California (United States) in the nineties. The company employs 17,000 workers around the world, is traded on the Nasdaq and is among the top ten international biopharmaceutical companies. They devote between 20% and 25% of revenue to R&D&i. The Amgen Spain-Portugal subsidiary has been based in Catalonia —in the Barcelona World Trade Center— for more than 20 years, as they believe this area is a benchmark of the biotechnology industry in Europe, has the necessary biomedical excellence and a clear commitment to the biocluster. Amgen was one of the first biotech firms in the world to develop new drugs using recombinant DNA and molecular biology. They have more than 50 molecules in the pipeline (considered the best biotechnology pipeline by journal Script).

In early October, the company announced that Roland Wandeler would take over as general manager of Amgen Spain-Portugal. How would you sum up your 21 years at the head of one of the largest biopharmaceutical companies?

Above all, it has been very exciting because we started the subsidiary in Spain in 1991 before biotechnology was widely known. In fact, it was just a promise. Over these years, we’ve been able to make many new drugs available to patients and create a team of 250 people.

Have you achieved all the goals you set?

Well… In such a high-risk arena like innovation and biotechnology there are always some successes and some failures. I know some products have been a commercial failure, not meeting expectations, or a scientific failure because they haven’t reached the end of the process, but the successes have made up for these, as we have been able to bring life-changing drugs to patients with serious diseases. And that it the biggest comfort in our sector.

Amgen is carrying out research programs mainly in oncology, hematology, inflammation and bone metabolism. What are the most innovative products that have been launched to market?

Yes, although there is also an area focusing on nephrology, mainly renal failure, which affects some 20,000 chronic sufferers in Spain. In particular I remember the first, filgastrim, was very innovative because it was a drug that treats and prevents neutropenia caused by chemotherapy agents. It took a lot of effort both scientifically and in raising awareness among oncologists and hematologists of this new approach. I think this drug has marked a before and after in chemotherapy. After that we have launched drugs that haven’t been so much to support a disease but more for treatment, like a monoclonal antibody for colon cancer or recently a product for osteoporosis.

What drugs are currently in the clinical development stages?

We’ve achieved a goal that was unthinkable for subsidiaries outside the English-speaking world (Australia, the United Kingdom or the United States), which is to attract the initial stages and become the first or second country in Europe in number of calitec trials. And that has been possible thanks to the good hospital and oncology network available, mainly, in Catalonia.

Has investment in R&D held steady over the past three years?

The company has always invested roughly 20% of revenue in R&D. On a global scale, this figure will surely be maintained but investment in Spain could be affected depending on how the market evolves. We are competing with other countries in quality and this privileged situation of having so many trials here could be compromised if we aren’t moving forward in innovation. There are products that are waiting to be approved and that doesn’t help Spain position itself as a country that supports innovation.

What do you think of the biotechnology and biomedical research arena in Catalonia?

We have a truly historical opportunity to consolidate this country as a transversal focal point in biomedical research, but we have work to do. The metrics are too focused on publication; we must make them more product- or patent-oriented, which afterwards contribute to innovation. I think that we are working towards this and that we must achieve it in order to be more competitive. The foundation is solid and the Government’s commitment is significant despite the economic situation.

Have you seen changes in technology transfer between the public and private sectors?

The only way to prosper is to forge this type of strategic alliances, although there are still hurdles to be overcome. On both sides, we must break through the barriers of trust and, surely, of inertia. We have to debureaucratize many of the current processes and the only way to do this is by showing types of alliances that reaffirm that this is possible. The vocation to do so is clearly present, but it isn’t happening at the necessary speed as a result of these barriers and a general aversion to risk. It is a sector that innovates but at times we are a bit slow to innovate in processes and this type of alliances.

Did you experience any alliances at Amgen?

We forged public alliances with hospitals, nearly all of the large ones in Catalonia, both for research and processes, as well as with other companies. In this sector it is very difficult for one company to go it alone. There are an ever-increasing number of alliances between companies and organizations –public or private research institutes and the Administration– for the early stages of drug development because it is very difficult to take on all the risk. At a meeting with three ministers of the Government of Catalonia, in which we established collaboration for the future, I told them I was sorry the agreement had taken so long to reach, surely as a result of this mistrust and lack of proactivity on behalf of both parties. We must seek out lines of collaboration to make the system more sustainable and preserve innovation.

Amgen is one of the best places to work in Spain according to the 2011 Best Workplaces Spain ranking (for the sixth time since 2004). How have you created this work environment?

Of my time here, this is one of the other aspects I am most proud of. When I announced that I was leaving the company, the reaction of many people on the team was to tell me that, although it had grown a lot, the company still maintains that spirit of entrepreneurialism, proximity to the employees, discipline, respect for others, freedom of expression… and in the end companies are the people who work there.

What will you do now?

I’m not the kind to take a sabbatical. I hope to continue in the sector in one way or another, whether it be starting up a new project in the near future on my own or at another company. I have ideas and the drive to do things and I think I can tackle this very challenging time.

Will you stay in Catalonia?

Maybe I will and maybe I won’t. But I will always be linked to Catalonia, that is for sure.

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