Biotech pioneer Amgen supports local STEM equity, racial justice, COVID-19 relief efforts

While it's true that Amgen may not share the currently trending "household name" status of Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J, life-saving medicines invented by Amgen scientists have for decades provided relief to millions of people across the globe -- and counting. Since 1980, Amgen has taken its role seriously as a leader in biotechnology and biomanufacturing, pledging a mission to improve patients' quality of life in every community its therapeutics can access.

Within and beyond the lab, Amgen's company values are cornerstones in efforts to achieve intersectional equity in STEM -- and, more recently, in racial justice and COVID-19 relief.

The California-based company brought its business operations to Florida in 2017 when Amgen chose Tampa's Westshore business district -- after evaluating more than 270 other locations nationwide -- to establish its Global Capability Center. 

Leadership in Amgen's Tampa division, Haresh Patel and Felicia Harvey, underscore how -- through the Amgen Foundation, ERG-driven initiatives, and partnerships with local nonprofits and educators -- Amgen has discovered in Tampa not only a diverse community to call home in the southeastern U.S. but a meaningful sense of place and purpose.

Social responsibility is built into the company DNA

In just over 20 years with Amgen, Haresh Patel has lived and worked in communities across the globe: at the company's headquarters in Thousand Oaks, CA., in the greater Netherlands, and most recently, in Tampa, where he leads the Global Capability Center as Site Head and Executive Director of Business Services. 

A self-described "L.A. kid," Patel studied mechanical engineering at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He received his MBA from the University of Southern California and joined Amgen as a consultant in 1998.

"I knew early on that this is a place I want to be. Not only is Amgen a high-growth company, but we developed leading-edge medicines, Epogen and Neupogen. These were therapeutics that changed the course of biotechnology," Patel says.

But it was more than Amgen's reputation for pioneering pharmaceuticals that drew Patel to the company in the late 90s: it had something to do with Amgen's science-driven social conscience, too.
"Our heritage is based on foundations of science -- DNA in particular. We use science to create breakthrough therapeutics for the world. Our mission is to serve patients, and that mission is what essentially drives us each and every day. ... I tell my team we do 'rocket science in the human body.' We're a little like NASA if you think about it in those terms," Patel says. 

As the "NASA of biotech," Patel explains that access and equity are a keystone in Amgen's mission to serve every patient. 

Community engagement is a core value for the company that, in 2021, employs approximately 24,000 people worldwide. Amgen incentivizes staff to volunteer within the scope of their personal interests, Patel says, and institutionalizes support for their philanthropic activities through a robust network of employee resource groups (ERGs).

"We have a strong history of integrating into the communities we are based in and have developed a culture of promoting diversity via employee resource groups in Amgen. These groups are integral to creating the engagement and connectivity to the communities we are in," says Patel.

"For example, I'm of Indian origin, and as an executive, I’m proud to sponsor our local chapter of AISN, the Asian Indian Subcontinent Network, which has been very active in promoting diversity -- not only within Amgen and Asian Indian Subcontinent culture but across cultures via hackathons with local high schools and cultural events like Diwali. We have nine other ERGs to promote diversity within our Black, Asian, Latino, LGBTQ, Veterans, Women Leadership, and others affinity employees," he adds. 

Amgen's 10 active ERGs (employee resource groups -- voluntary, employee-led groups made up of individuals who join together based on common interests, backgrounds, or demographic factors such as gender, race, or ethnicity) are:
  • Amgen Asian Association (AAA)​
  • Amgen Black Employee Network (ABEN)
  • Ability Bettered Through Leadership and Education (ABLE)
  • Amgen Early Career Professionals (AECP)
  • Amgen Indian Subcontinent Network (AISN)
  • Amgen Latin Employee Network (ALEN)
  • Amgen Veterans Employees Network (AVEN)
  • Amgen PRIDE – LGBTQ and Allies Network (PRIDE)
  • Women Empowered To Be Exceptional (WE2)
  • Women In Information Systems Enrichment (WISE)
"These groups are foundational in terms of helping us connect to the community. Amgen Foundation does a great job of tying us to particular organizations that we want to promote through our ERGs and Foundation in terms of science and culture," Patel says.

Amgen Foundation opens doors in science for high school students, teachers

Felicia Harvey, a longtime Tampa business leader and communications specialist with a background in economics from Florida A&M, joined Amgen in 2017. As Corporate Affairs Site Lead for the Tampa Capability Center, Harvey's responsibilities include directorship of Amgen's community and corporate relations and philanthropy. 

Harvey says Amgen Foundation prioritizes developing strong partnerships and grant programs with local organizations including Junior Achievement, Computer Mentors Group, PACE Center for Girls, Hillsborough Education Foundation, and Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

One of Amgen's longest-running programs, Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE), provides professional, research lab-grade biotechnology equipment, as well as curriculum plans and lab training, for high school teachers to introduce their students to hands-on molecular biology. The ABE program, which recently celebrated 30 years, is presented in Hillsborough County in partnership with the University of South Florida Department of Integrated Biology and Dr. Luanna Prevost. 

"For us, science education is the primary focus of our overall Foundation efforts. In Tampa, specifically, we are proud to partner with the University of South Florida and the Hillsborough County School District for the Amgen Biotech Experience," says Harvey. 

"We live in a very diverse community. It's important for us to introduce students to areas of science they may have never considered as a career field -- and ABE is a great program to engage the next generation of innovators," she adds.

Harvey notes that while the pandemic stalled the hands-on Amgen Biotech Experience last year, the program should return safely for the 2021-22 school year. In the meantime, Amgen Foundation has triaged significant philanthropic funding efforts, locally and nationally, toward COVID-19 relief and social justice campaigns. 

Amgen's philanthropic pivot for pandemic relief and racial justice projects

Amgen Foundation delivered $250,000 in COVID-19 relief funding to United Way Suncoast and $50,000 for the Hillsborough Education Foundation in spring, 2020.

“As a part of our COVID-19 relief aid efforts, we wanted to help to address the digital divide as our school district shifted to virtual learning," Harvey explains. 

"Through the Amgen Foundation, we were able to donate $50,000 to help our most vulnerable students get the technology they needed to help keep them connected. The Hillsborough Education Foundation has been a great community partner as we seek to level the educational playing field through not only our COVID relief support but through our sponsorship of the Hillsborough Regional STEM Fair," she adds.

Last summer, Amgen Foundation addressed another ongoing public health crisis in the U.S. when the Foundation pledged $7.5 million over three years to organizations supporting racial justice. A total of $2.25 million was immediately distributed to NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative, Race Forward, and Echoing Green in June 2020.

Locally, Amgen distributed funds to the CDC of Tampa, Innocence Project of Florida, Men of Vision, and Pinellas County Urban League

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Amgen and Amgen Foundation have committed $12.5 million to support COVID-19 relief efforts around the world. Learn more at this link

This Partner Content story was funded by Amgen in Tampa, an underwriting partner with 83 Degrees Media to elevate the narrative around philanthropy and equity issues facing the Tampa Bay Area.

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Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

Jessi Smith (she/they) is a freelance writer who is passionate about sustainability, community building, and the power of the arts and transformative storytelling. A fourth-generation Floridian, Jessi received her B.A. in Art History and English from Florida International University and began reporting for 83 Degrees in 2009. When she isn't writing, Jessi enjoys taking her deaf rescue dog on outdoors adventures, unearthing treasures in backroads antiques and thrift shops, D.I.Y. upcycling projects, and Florida-friendly gardening.