For more than 40 years, Amgen has helped pioneer the global biotech industry and create new therapies for patients. Now, the health care company also is focusing its efforts to drive toward closing the health equity gaps.
“How do we make sure that health equity means everyone everywhere has a fair opportunity to be as healthy as possible? It’s a question we spend a lot of time thinking about at Amgen,” said Jeanette Schulz, Director of Health Equity & Advocacy Relations.
Founded in 1980 and based in Southern California, Amgen has more than 20,000 employees and its CEO is a member of the American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable, a group of nearly 50 CEOs dedicated to the health and well-being of our nation’s workforce and understanding and eliminating health inequities. The Roundtable produced the recent report “Driving Healthy Equity in the Workplace.”
Schulz said Amgen is committed to improving health equity not just for its employees, but for patients around the world. The company’s products include medications to treat serious illnesses including cardiovascular disease, cancer and asthma.
“As we define health equity though the lens of communities, one area we focus on is representation in our clinical trials,” Schulz said, referring to Amgen’s Representation In Clinical RESearch (RISE) program. The initiative, launched in 2020, is working to ensure research is conducted with the inclusion of all patients who have a disease Amgen is seeking to treat.
The company’s health equity goals include ensuring comprehensive health education, providing accessible and inclusive health care and ensuring representative product development which includes a focus on historically excluded patients in clinical research, Schulz said.
She pointed specifically to what Amgen is calling “ambition statements” to focus on diseases where the company has expertise, populations where there are enormous disparities, and geographic areas with a high prevalence of these populations. These include initiatives for Black Americans with lung cancer and cardiovascular disease in several Southern states, and for Hispanic patients with severe asthma in New York.
Amgen also works for health equity internally, striving to recruit, develop and retain a diverse workforce representative of communities that Amgen works with, said Tamika Jean-Baptiste, Vice President, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at Amgen.
One of the focus areas of Amgen’s DI&B priorities is to increase the percentage of Black people with science titles and the percentage of Black and Hispanic talent in executive leadership roles. Another priority area is to increase the representation and development of women at the executive director level and higher-level roles.
Amgen belongs to the OneTen initiative, a coalition of companies committed to hiring and advancing 1 million Black individuals who do not have a four-year degree into family-sustaining careers over the next decade.
The company’s 12 employee-led resource groups are successfully fostering inclusion in the workplace and creating a space where employees feel seen and heard. These groups, known as employee resource groups or ERGs, all include a CEO staff sponsor and represent 60 chapters globally with 12,000 employees.
Jean-Baptiste said Amgen relies on the powerful voices and diverse thinking of its ERG community to help drive business value. One example includes the implementation of RISE, to accelerate the work the Amgen Black Employee Network started in 2016.
In addition, when it comes to health care coverage, Amgen “wants to make sure our plans are available and affordable for all our employees,” said Vincent Brigandi, Executive Director of Compensation and Benefits.
“Our program is offered to all employees and their domestic partners and dependents, regardless of marital status. Our prescription drug co-pays are extremely reasonable, and our premiums and out-of-pocket maximums are based on salary tiers” with lowest earners paying the least, he said.
When COVID-19 brought new challenges to achieving health equity, Amgen responded by offering employees free telehealth visits and instituting policies for workers to take care of children and other family members without losing pay, Brigandi said.
And while the pandemic forced Amgen’s Health Equity Summit to go virtual, the number of attendees increased five-fold, to about 500, this past April at its 9th annual event. The summit brings together patient advocates, professional societies, academics, industry peers and Amgen staff members.
“This year it really opened and blossomed. The discussion was more robust and (geared) more toward driving continued action,” Schulz said.
Amgen looks forward to continuing that discussion at the next event in 2023.
“As we continue this dialogue, we look forward to sharing more about our progress in our commitment towards closing the equity gaps, hold ourselves accountable for our actions and involve more stakeholders including policymakers and peers to scale these solutions more broadly,” she said.
Editor’s Note: Health Equity at Work highlights efforts underway at companies in the CEO Roundtable. However, the American Heart Association does not endorse or promote products or services from Amgen or any other organization. Comments and opinions expressed in this editorial by people outside the Association do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the American Heart Association.