Importance of science, importance of connection: How 2020 helped sharpen our focus

In the fourth of our opinion pieces from Science meets Parliament sponsors, Vice President and Managing Director of Amgen Australia and New Zealand Shannon Sulllivan discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic has awakened the world to the power of science to transform lives and livelihoods.

Photo by Amgen.

It’s a great pleasure for Amgen to once again be associated with Science Meets Parliament and to show our support for Science & Technology Australia’s valuable work to advance the impact of science in this country, and to connect scientists with governments, industry and the broader community.

After a year of great disruption, one that saw most of us retreat to our homes and confront the realities of a global pandemic on our doorstep, the opportunity to engage through this forum is not only welcome, but undeniably timely and relevant.

While there are few silver linings in dark clouds of the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps one is that the world has been awakened to a truth long accepted in these circles – that everyone needs science and science needs everyone.

At Amgen – a company deeply grounded in science and committed to transforming new ideas into medicines for patients with serious illness – we’re privileged to bear witness to the power of science to transform lives and livelihoods every day. Over the past 12 months, we’ve also been proud to see our therapeutic antibody and immunology expertise contribute to the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

Amgen’s talented scientists, like those across our industry and the broader life sciences sector, bring inexorable drive, knowledge, curiosity, creativity and persistence as they seek to solve the great health challenges facing humanity.

COVID-19 is just one of these scourges but it has shone a light on the incredible contribution of scientists, and the profound importance of ensuring research and development efforts continue to receive the support needed to remain viable and resilient.

As 2020 sharpened our focus on science, it also taught us much about the importance of connection. Remote working, virtual meetings and tele-health filled significant gaps in our new, socially distant professional and personal lives, but we increasingly realised that being connected and feeling connected are not the same thing. Our new perspective showed us how much we need immersive experiences to enrich our lives and ease our burdens.

For all of Amgen’s leaders, reimagining how to engage with and care for our more than 23,000 employees around the globe was a crucial first step in ensuring we could continue to meaningfully connect with our patients – those currently on Amgen medicines and those who stand to benefit from potential new medicines in our pipeline.

Amgen also recognised the importance of supporting our communities during these difficult times. We could see that the headwinds for those trying to introduce, access or experience education were even stronger than those faced by us in the corporate world.

Amgen’s philanthropic arm – The Amgen Foundation – responded by doubling down on their commitment to science education and access for the next generation. They expanded their existing partnership with Khan Academy, renewing a USD3 million grant to support learning initiatives including virtual biology lessons and a collaboration with LabXchange, a new online science learning platform.

Through LabXchange, students across the globe can access videos, articles, animations, and interactive exercises for a full picture of scientific concepts. The platform even offers virtual lab capabilities allowing students to design and run experiments from their own homes.

During 2020, the Amgen Foundation also quietly marked the 30th anniversary of their flagship program – the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE) – with US$16.4 million committed to allow the program to be extended in Australia and all other existing sites for another three years.

For Australian students, who have been fortunate not to be kept away from school for nearly as long as their peers overseas, the ABE brings cutting-edge biotechnology into the classroom, allowing them to experience first-hand just how diverse and rewarding careers in biotechnology can be. Through our ongoing partnership with the University of Sydney, the ABE will now be available to schools across New South Wales until 2023.

So, on behalf of Amgen, I hope you enjoy the immersive experiences this conference provides and that the new insights you gain and connections you form here will amplify your work and help ensure sure that the spotlight on science is never extinguished.

Shannon Sullivan is Vice President and Managing Director, Amgen Australia and New Zealand. This piece is published as part of a series from sponsors of this year’s Science meets Parliament.

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