Saturday, October 20, 2007

Craig Venter and an Amgen Molecular Biology Institute?

I received my copy of Venter's autobiography, A Life Decoded, and went directly to the index in the back of the book. There are two entries for Amgen, the most interesting one is about the company's 1992 offer to set Venter up in a privately funded institute:

"... attempts to lure me away from NIH into a commercial lab continued. I was contacted by Amgen, which was netting more than $1 billion annually from biotech drugs and was now looking for new ways to invest its profits. A conversation with Lawrence M. Souza, the head of research, and Gordon Binder, CEO, turned to the concept of starting a new not-for-profit research institute in the Washington area. The Amgen team jumped at the idea, though while I envisioned doing basic research in a Venter Institute, they, of course, wanted me to do commercial work in an Amgen Institute. The subject was broached again during a visit to Amgen in Thousand Oaks, California. The company would give me a $70 million, ten-year commitment to establish the Amgen Molecular Biology Institute in Rockville, Maryland. I would serve as the institute president and be appointed a senior vice president of Amgen. The salary would be close to three times my NIH salary and would include stock options in Amgen. I still felt uneasy, but the offer was so generous that I promised that I would discuss it with my wife." (p. 153)

Venter explains his "unease" on the next page:

"Amgen offered stability, but I would be burdened with several new bosses and a drug company environment that did not appeal to me."

I'm confident that a corporate environment would never have appealed to Venter unless he was at the very top of it.

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