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Biotech Amgen to Buy Genetics Pioneer DeCode

Amgen places a $415 million bet that human genetics will boost drug discovery.

  • December 10, 2012

DeCode genetics, the Reykjavik-based human genetics company founded by Kari Stefansson, will soon have an American owner. Amgen, a biotech drug developer based near Los Angeles, California, announced today that it will buy DeCode for $415 million. Amgen says the purchase will enhance the company’s ability to identify successful drug targets.

Over the past 16 years, DeCode has made dozens of human genetics discoveries that have linked genetic variants to risks of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes (see “Gene Variant Linked to Heart Disease” and “A Genetic Test for Diabetes Risk”).

One of the reasons for DeCode’s research success is all the medical records and genetic information it has collected from some 140,000 willing Icelander participants. However, that genetic prowess wasn’t enough to create a profitable biotechnology company—DeCode declared bankruptcy in 2009 (see “DeCode is Bankrupt; So Is The Idea of “Pure” Genomics”), but the company was rescued by private investors in 2010.  

Access to that rich dataset, and to the expertise at DeCode (which will still be run by Stefansson, according to Forbes), is likely to shape Amgen’s drug pipeline. Given the many and diverse discoveries made by DeCode, it’s hard to say which diseases will be Amgen’s first target, but the hope is clearly that Amgen will develop drugs with a better chance of success than is currently seen in the industry (somewhere around 10 percent). And the hope is that genetics will make a difference. As Sean Harper, head of R&D at Amgen told Forbes:

“Having that information that those targets are relevant in human disease as opposed to not having it and relying on animal models is a huge thing for us given that we can only explore a small number of drug targets in any given time.”

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