Amgen Incubators Grow Startup for Harvest

One Bench at a Time

Amgen Incubators Grow Startup for Harvest

Venture division seeks access to technology, potential takeovers.

San Fernando Valley Business Journal, July 11-24, 2016
By STEPHANIE HENKEL, Staff Reporter

Amgen inc. hopes to get in on more ground floors by sponsoring startups in the biotech hubs in Cambridge, Mass. and, more recently, in San Francisco.

The Thousand Oaks biopharmaceutical company last month announced its five-year sponsorship of the QB3@953 life sciences incubator, which is about a 10-minute drive from Amgen’s South San Francisco location. In October, the company implemented a similar program at LabCentral, located down the street from Amgen’s Cambridge facility and close to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“If you really want to be on the cutting edge and see new innovation that’s coming, having a presence in those areas is key, and having a mechanism for the outreach is also extremely important,” said Dr.Janis Naeve, managing director of Amgen Ventures, Amgen’s investment arm. “That’s why we felt supporting incubators in those regions is so important.”

As part of the agreements at each location, the company awards two startups “Amgen Golden Tickets,” which provide the winners one year of free lab space, additional facility perks and connection opportunities with Amgen scientists and executives.

Also, Amgen hosts networking events and keeps office hours at the incubators to provide support to budding companies.

“Our incubator provides the ice-breaking connection between the biggest and smallest companies,” said Doug Crawford, managing director at QB3@953. “The combination of physical resources and intellectual resources allows them (the startups) to go further faster.”

Acquisition pipeline?

Incubators, or rentable spaces for startup companies that typically come with staff and equipment support, have been popping up in regions focused on technology and biotech, including Silicon Beach on the Westside and the 101 technology corridor, which runs along the 101 freeway from the West San Fernando Valley into the Conejo Valley. These facilities have caught the attention of large industry players, such as Amgen, that hope to one day capitalize on new technologies coming out of these companies.

“Clearly, there is a growing and powerful trend toward bigger life sciences companies to try to access technology being developed by smaller companies,” said Sanford Hillsberg, a biotech attorney for TroyGould in Los Angeles. “We are seeing more acquisitions and a very active environment for venture capital-type investments in smaller companies by larger companies’ investment arms.”

While the startups could become future acquisitions for bigger companies, in the meantime they broaden established companies’ internal research and development programs. However, Hillsberg warned that there are risks involved with providing resources to startups due to their high failure rate.

But for Amgen, the time and resources are a small price to pay for the potential return. “Amgen Ventures is really focused on
external innovation to help support Amgen’s internal innovation,” said Naeve. “Right now, we are focused on just building this bridge. They (the startups) need some time to grow and evolve, but I think in the future, this is something Amgen could benefit from.”

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