Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Research scientist Jeromy Cottell works at one of Gilead’s four medicinal chemistry labs.
Foster City biopharmaceutical giant Gilead Science, Inc. is at forefront of discovering drugs to treat life-threatening diseases and its officials believe essentially doubling the size of its campus will allow it to expand its assistance to developing countries across the world.
Gilead Science, Inc., was founded in 1987 near Vintage Park Drive and focuses on researching and developing treatments for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancer.
“We believe expanding operations in Foster City allows us to accommodate our long-term growth as we seek to develop more novel therapies that address unmet medical needs for patients living with life-threatening diseases around the world,” Clifford Samuel, vice president of access operations and emerging markets, wrote in an email.
The biopharmaceutical giant has more than 5,800 employees across five continents and was ranked second in Fortune magazine’s list of fastest growing companies in 2012, according to its website.
Foster City officials have been supportive of its continuing proposal to expand the area covered by the Gilead Sciences Corporate Master Plan from 40 acres to 72.59 acres to allow for 5,000 potential new employees.
The City Council approved the environmental impact report for the plan in October. Specific portions of the project are being channeled through the city’s Community Development Department, the most recent of which is for a 10-story office building.
In 2003, Gilead began focusing on addressing those with limited access to HIV/AIDS treatments, Samuel said.
“Recognizing that the greatest need for HIV treatment is in the least-developed parts of the world, the company has put in place innovative programs and partnerships to expand global access to its antiretroviral therapies,” Samuel said.
The World Health Organization estimates 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries receive antiretroviral therapies. Today, approximately 4.7 million of those are receiving Gilead medications, Samuel said. Yet it’s a growing epidemic and WHO estimates 34 million people across the world are living with HIV. Gilead missions to expand its access programs for those with limited resources by sharing its processes to international licensing partners, Samuel said.
“The company’s approach to access in the developing world includes tiered pricing for branded medicines, voluntary generic licenses and technology transfers, regional business partners, product registrations and medical education,” Samuel said. “Generic licensing partners play a major role in expanding treatment in developing countries. Today, 96 percent of Gilead HIV therapy used in low- and middle-income countries is produced and sold by licensing partners,” Samuel said.
Licensees are provided with Gilead’s manufacturing process and subsequently earn approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or from WHO, Samuel said. This model has allowed licensed manufacturers to lower the costs of certain medication by 80 percent, according to its site.
Gilead contracts with 70 manufactures in other countries and most of Gilead’s generic HIV/AIDS medications are produced by companies in India, said Michele Rest, spokeswoman for Gilead.
Gilead generally focuses on other chronic, life-threatening diseases that 10 to 20 years ago were a death sentence. It works to address the growing population suffering from Hepatitis B and C and has begun to expand oncology research as well, Rest said.
Many of Gilead’s employees are drawn by the company’s ethics and global influence, Rest said.
“There are a lot of very passionate people that work here,” Rest said. “Meeting unmet medical needs, which is nice to see and I think a lot of people want to be a part of.”
The drug discovery process often begins in a biology lab where researchers may start reviewing a million different chemical entities from which they may narrow it down to one with which to work, said Guofeng Cheng, senior research scientist at Gilead.
The process is time consuming and experiments could last from a few hours to more than a year, Cheng said. But with innovative equipment, a single person can now quickly perform procedures that would otherwise take days, Cheng said. The advanced machinery in Gilead labs allows for more accurate and consistent high volume performances, Cheng said.
“There’s a high emphasis on doing things well, doing things quickly and doing things safely,” said Jeromy Cottell, a research scientist at one of Gilead’s four medicinal chemistry labs.
He was drawn to work at Gilead based on the company’s leadership, Cottell said.
“A lot of [pharmaceutical] companies have non-scientists running the company. It makes it more of a business with a focus on science. With [Gilead’s] scientist leadership, it makes it clear Gilead has a really good focus on core sciences,” Cottell said.
Gilead’s top executives all have doctorates in chemistry and its Chief Executive Officer Dr. John C. Marin was ranked by the Harvard Business Review as one of the top performing CEOs worldwide, according to its site.
Gilead is currently working with Foster City’s planning department for its proposal to double its allowable building space from 1,200,480 square feet to a total of 2,500,600 square feet and recently completed a four-story laboratory.
Growing in Foster City will assist Gilead in furthering its mission to address some of the world’s deadliest diseases, Samuel said.
“Gilead makes it a priority to increase access to its medicines for people who can benefit from them,” Samuel said, “regardless of where they live or their ability to pay.”
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