George Rathmann, Biotech Pioneer and Mentor Honored Through Endowed Professorship
Dennis Fenton first met George Rathmann in 1981when he was a budding young bench scientist. Rathmann promised to build a company bigger and better than Pfizer that would take biotechnology and transform it into a powerhouse that would produce revolutionary new products to benefit society. As Fenton recalls, he came away from their first meeting thinking, "This guy is crazy, but if anyone can do it, he can." Soon after, Fenton quit his job at Pfizer to join Rathmann at Amgen. That decision changed his life forever.
Twenty-four years later, Dennis Fenton is the Executive Vice President of Operations at Amgen. He and his wife Linda are honoring George Rathmann, the man who changed their lives and led the birth of the biotech industry, through a gift to Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences. Their extraordinary gift of $1.75 million, which was augmented with $750,000 from the W.M. Keck Foundation founding grant, will establish a permanent endowment of $2.5 million for the George B. and Joy Rathmann Professor and Director of the Amgen Bioprocessing Center at KGI.
Dennis Fenton has been a member of KGI's Board of Trustees since 2004. He describes the reasons behind his gift to KGI or, as he affectionately calls it, "the Keck" this way, "I'm enthusiastic about the mission of the Keck and its desire to create the next generation of entrepreneurs for the biotechnology industry," said Fenton, "and the connection with the Rathmanns is that I can't think of a better example of a scientist entrepreneur than George Rathmann."
It is fair to say that George Rathmann's life has embodied the very spirit of KGI - an institution dedicated to preparing leaders for the bioscience industry with a special blend of business acumen, firm scientific grounding, and an eye towards the needs of society. Rathmann is widely credited with showing the industry how to turn lab breakthroughs into billion-dollar products. And although he is now retired at 77, Rathmann continues to coach new biotech startups with his mastery of the underlying science and his penchant for business.
The powerful combination of science and business has been a recipe for the success of KGI and its graduates. Fully 93% of KGI's 112 alumni are already working in leading organizations in the biotech industry. Dennis Fenton sees it this way, "The curricula that [KGI puts] students through…both from the business standpoint and the scientific standpoint, is unique, but more unique than that, is the way you teach it: as an integrated curricula." It was that same blend of science and business that made George Rathmann, and subsequently Amgen, successful beyond anyone's imagination.
Amgen today is the world's largest independent biotechnology company. One of the top 50 of the Fortune 500 companies, it has operations in Asia, Europe, and North America with additional offices worldwide. Its products have improved the lives of millions of people struggling to deal with serious illnesses including cancer, chronic kidney disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. (In an ironic twist of fate, it is one of Amgen's original products, Epogen, which keeps George Rathmann's kidney disease at bay.) Together with its more than 14,000 employees, Amgen celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
The Amgen Foundation, the charitable arm of the company, tops the list of the largest Los Angeles based corporate foundations and has contributed more than $50 million to regional and national nonprofit organizations dedicated to the advancement of science education, improving the quality of health care and access for patients, and supporting community resources. This year, the Amgen Foundation made a gift of $2 million to provide initial funding for the Amgen Bioprocessing Center at KGI which will teach students the most effective technical and management skills associated with optimizing therapeutic drug production in the critical early phases of development. The soon to be named Rathmann Professor will be charged with overseeing the initial start-up and ongoing operations of the Center.
Endowing a chair to lead the new bioprocessing center was a natural choice for Dennis Fenton. Referring to his recent gift, Fenton remarked that the operational side of the biotech business is often overlooked by students. "Sales and marketing is sexy, research is sexy, and everything that happens in between is viewed as 'manufacturing' and kind of boring. Well, it's far from boring in the biotechnology industry," said Fenton. "I am pleased to be a supporter of the Bioprocessing Center [at KGI] as a way to create a door for students to enter into the operational side of the business. I think the training that people will get going to the Keck Graduate Institute and coming into operations at Amgen or any biotechnology company prepares them to step up to eventual leadership roles. I wish I went to the Keck!"
While Dennis Fenton may not have been a KGI student, his commitment to the school and its current students is evident in the generosity of his and Linda's gift. The KGI community is deeply grateful for this donation and enthusiastically joins the Fentons in honoring George Rathmann, a true scientist entrepreneur whose life's mission has paralleled that of Keck Graduate Institute: to translate into practice, for the benefit of society, the power and potential of the life sciences.