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TAKING HEART

Empowering students to live the life of a scientist

Amgen Foundation partners science institutes and universities to provide students and teachers with materials and exposure to the world of research

Singapore

DEVELOPING human capital is paramount, that is what Eduardo Cetlin, president of the Amgen Foundation, firmly believes. The foundation is the corporate philanthropy arm of American multinational biopharmaceutical company Amgen.

Established in 1980 in Thousand Oaks, California, the firm made its first manufacturing foray into Asia when it opened a biomanufacturing facility in Tuas Biomedical Park in November 2014.

"We think we're living in a 'bio-century'. Physics is clear; we know most of what's got to be known about physics. (With) biology, enormous progress is happening. At Amgen, we talk about gene hunting and genetic validation to discover how to focus our limited resources," said Mr Cetlin.

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"What's required to continue doing this work? It's all about human capital.

"Innovators of tomorrow, but also a scientifically literate society; people who will be able to talk to their doctors and ask good questions; people who will be able to navigate the complexity of the healthcare system everywhere."

In trying to realise this dream, the Amgen Foundation pioneered two initiatives, namely the Amgen Biotech Experience and the Amgen Scholars Program.

The corporate philanthropy arm partnered with Science Centre Singapore to bring its Amgen Biotech Experience to Singapore in 2017, providing teachers with teaching materials, and offering research-grade lab equipment to secondary schools. Since then, the ABE program has equipped 2,000 students and teachers in Singapore.

"We believe in the power of science teachers, they are the secret weapon, the secret sauce. They are the ones that, if we celebrate and give the support they need, they can have an enormous multiplier effect in impacting our society," said Mr Cetlin.

For the Amgen Scholars programme, the Amgen Foundation invited undergraduate students in Singapore to participate in an eight-week research programme hosted by universities in Japan.

Under mentorship, the students undertake a research project, participate in seminars and symposiums, and hear from leading scientists in both industry and academia.

Mr Cetlin said: "The idea is; over a two to three month period, Amgen wants these students to have the opportunity to live the life of a scientist. During this period, they are working with the top faculty members in one of these (partner) institutions. Doing (research) in a context where a student is working side-by-side with faculty, post-docs and PhD students, they are immersed in a world of science."

Here in Singapore, the Amgen Foundation recently held the first Amgen Scholars Asia Symposium, from Aug 3 to 4. Hosted by the foundation in collaboration with the National University of Singapore (NUS), the event brought together more than 60 Amgen Scholars across Asia, speakers from NUS, Kyoto University, Tsinghua University, the University of Tokyo, and senior executive leaders from Amgen.

Activities at the symposium included lecture sessions on biotechnology topics, and a poster competition where Amgen Scholars presented their summer research projects to senior Amgen leaders and academia from the various universities.The Amgen Scholars were also given a tour at Amgen's manufacturing site in Singapore.

Mr Cetlin also took time to address some doubts cynics might have about Amgen's initiatives, saying: "I am not organising Amgen Scholars to hire for Amgen, I am doing it to hire for our industry. My goal is for every graduate to dedicate their career to the life sciences."

Amgen Foundation has also been working with Harvard University for the past three and a half years to create a virtual laboratory. The partnership resulted in the creation of LabXchange, which is scheduled to launch in October this year.

Giving a brief overview of LabXchange, Mr Cetlin said: "What LabXchange is going to do is create a place where students will be able to ask a question, formulate a hypothesis and design a virtual experiment; likely fail; then redesign it so that they can get the right results."

The platform will also allow teachers to customise and share their teaching plans.

With all the initiatives and partnerships that Amgen Foundation has participated in, the vision is clear, with Mr Cetlin saying: "All the programmes I told you about are really about changing the dynamic and saying application of content is critical. Students need to become active agents in their learning.

"At the end of the day, the way we think about CSR is creating the internal avenues for dialogue between the different functions that have very different responsibilities, to work together so that we can become the best company that we can be.

"Philanthropy connects in a couple of different ways, the primary being this part about human capital agenda. (It is about asking) how are we going to be focused on the things that make the most difference and those that we are most qualified to do."