Amgen Inc., already considered the world's largest biotech, is now deepening its footprint in Asia. The Thousand Oaks-based company is establishing offices in India and China so it can better test its drugs in those markets and potentially scout opportunities for industry partnerships.


Amgen is forming local affiliate companies in Hong Kong and Mumbai, India, with the capability to conduct clinical trials in India and East Asia, according to spokeswoman Mary Klem. She declined to comment on speculation in the Indian media that the company may be interested in partnerships that could lead to potential acquisition of drug discovery firms in those markets.


"We are open to working with drug development partners anywhere in the world, but do not currently have a targeted focus on Asia," Klem said.


The company's Asia-Pacific operations already include a wholly owned subsidiary in Japan, and commercial operations to sell its products in Australia and New Zealand. Initial activities in both Hong Kong and Mumbai will focus conducting clinical trials for several Amgen investigational drugs, with enrollment expected to start next year.


Amgen, which has worldwide sales of more than $12 billion and an annual research budget of $1.3 billion, recently embarked the largest research and development expansion since the company's founding in 1980.


Building Bridges

UCLA last week played host to 13 of China's top neurologists and psychiatrists who were here to learn how to establish Alzheimer's disease research centers in their own communities.


The three-day trip, paid for by Japanese drug maker Eisai Pharmaceuticals Inc., immersed the visiting scientists in U.S.-style research site management and techniques in conducting clinical trials, patient assessments, imaging technology, and quality assurance. The visitors also got a taste of some Hollywood-style hospitality, courtesy of a significant university benefactor.


UCLA's Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, one of the nation's top neurology researchers, had earlier in the day shown off facilities at the Deane F. Johnson Center for Neurotherapeutics, the neurological research institute he heads.


The center was endowed by Kate Edelman Johnson, who formed the Deane F. Johnson Alzheimer's Research Foundation after the 1999 death of the entertainment industry attorney and executive. She invited the group to dinner at her Beverly Hills home overlooking the UCLA campus, repaying the doctors for hospitality she was shown during a foundation-related trip to China last year.


Johnson said one of her dreams is for the center to focus on clinical trials leading to cures. "Deane was such a vibrant, active renaissance man," she said, noting her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's seven years before his death at age 81. "To watch him lose himself was heartbreaking."


The center specializes in conducting clinical trials for novel therapies for diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to Parkinson's disease. Most the studies are funded by the National Institutes for Health, but Cummings does have a few drug industry contracts, including a Novartis AG study of a patch-administered drug that could alleviate the deterioration in cognitive abilities that can accompany Parkinson's.


"I think we've established ourselves as a great research institution in only a short amount of time," said Johnson, noting that one strength is the close professional partnership she's developed with Cummings, who treated her husband in his final years. "I dream it; he makes it happen."


Center staff workers are now talking with a number of potential corporate sponsors, looking for ongoing annual gift that would help fund $125,000 in staff costs.


This & That

Backers of UCLA's long-delayed Ronald Reagan Medical Center heaved a sigh of relief after UC Regents last week approved an additional $308 million to complete the I.M. Pei-designed health facility in Westwood and a sister hospital in Santa Monica.


Increased costs for building materials and numerous design changes to accommodate changes in technology were among the reasons given for a construction budget that ballooned from its initial $597.7 million to $829.3 million. The main campus hospital, whose construction was necessitated by tougher state seismic standards, is expected to start admitting patients next fall, two years later than expected.


Staff reporter Deborah Crowe can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 232, or at dcrowe@labusinessjournal.com .

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