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Picking the Winners in Our DNA

March 09, 2016

Picking the Winners in Our DNA

Betting on Science

Defeating human disease is as simple—and complex—as “picking the winners.” Amgen says. It ought to know. The world’s largest independent biotechnology firm, the California-based company’s record of accomplishment in engineering blockbuster therapies speaks for itself. From its original four-person staff in 1980 to nearly 18,000 scientists and professionals now located around the globe, the company’s strategy remains elegantly simple: “serve patients by transforming the promise of science and biotechnology into therapies that have the power to restore health or save lives.” 1

A big part of that process—and a huge differentiator from its competitors— is Amgen’s “biology first” approach to disease. By studying even the smallest biologic mechanism, Amgen researchers have consistently “picked the winners,” as they call it, to identify and expedite highly promising discoveries and innovative treatments for serious human illnesses.

That “picking the winners” approach is hardly by chance. On the contrary, the company’s deep commitment to fundamental biological research and innovative technology is a defining feature of how Amgen scientists “first explore the complex molecular pathways of disease before determining what type of medicine, or modality, is most likely to deliver optimal efficacy and safety.” 2  So how are they doing it?

Harnessing Innovation

Because of its “biology first” philosophy, Amgen proactively seeks out innovative technologies to advance its research goals.  A case in point is the company’s bioassay technical group based in the San Francisco Bay area, which relies on PerkinElmer’s Opera® PhenixTM and Operetta® high-content screening systems coupled with PerkinElmer’s High Content Profiler™ software, powered by TIBCO Spotfire®.

Christopher Hale, a chemical and biomolecular engineer and member of the bioassay technical group, works in cellular imaging to support new therapeutic and screening technologies.

“We use high-content screening to capture cellular profiles,” Hale says. “In some cases, we know exactly what we are looking for in these profiles. Other times, we may not know… so phenotypic screening with imaging allows us to explore the effects that any compound or assay would have on cells. That lets us cast a wide net and hopefully find something that sticks. If so, we can then start developing an assay to further probe key effects” that may eventually lead to a new discovery and treatment.”

Dealing With Big Data

Amgen has seen major benefits from using PerkinElmer’s High Content Profiler in their gene targeting and drug discovery research.  Its researchers were able to more effectively and efficiently interpret their high-dimensional, big data and reduce the cost and effort of supporting numerous software platforms.

“We often have large datasets that can be a burden to analyze,” Hale explains. Using PerkinElmer’s High Content Profiler software, Hale and his colleagues can consolidate and transform the complex data generated by the Opera Phenix and Operetta high-content screening instruments onto a single platform so scientists can deploy, share, and draw insights from it for accelerated decisions in disease research.

“We’ve used it so far for siRNA screening campaigns, so these are targeted discovery campaigns. We are trying to find a gene of interest that we want to develop a drug for later,” Hale says. “In the case of a siRNA screen, High Contrast Profiler is helping us to determine how many siRNA per gene score hits. From there, we can then determine what we are going to take out of our assay. We can also run certain controls on the datasets, inspect our data tables, and make sure there is no information missing.”

A Triple Play

In combination with PerkinElmer’s Opera Phenix and Operetta high-content screening systems, the High Content Profiler software completes what equates to a scientific triple play. Because of the new technology, Amgen scientists have seen major benefits in their gene targeting and drug discovery research process with an automated workflow that guides them through the entire profiling process.

“In short,” says Seungtaek Lee, Information Business Development Leader, Cellular Imaging Systems at PerkinElmer, “these systems allow Amgen scientists to transform their high-content screening research data into actionable biological conclusions – in mere minutes.” 3 That is what Amgen’s “picking the winners” is all about.


  1. Amgen: Unlocking the Potential of Biology for Patients, Corporate Brochure, accessed March 7, 2016.
  2. Ibid.

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