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George Rathmann, first CEO of Amgen, dies in Ca.

Tuesday - 4/24/2012, 2:10am  ET

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) - George Rathmann, who as founding CEO took Amgen Inc. from a small company with an unclear mission in a strange new field and helped turn it into the world's largest biotech drugmaker, has died at age 84.

Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., announced Rathmann's death Monday in a statement.

Rathmann's son James told The New York Times he died Sunday at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. Son Richard told the Los Angeles Times the cause was complications from pneumonia.

Convinced in the 1970s that gene-splicing would become hugely important, Rathmann set out to make it so. As CEO of Amgen from 1980 to 1988, he developed two blockbuster drugs that made the company's name and have remained its best sellers: Epogen for anemia and Neupogen for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

"George Rathmann was a biotechnology giant and we were privileged to have him as our first CEO. George's vision and values are as alive today at Amgen as they were when he led the company," said Kevin Sharer, Chairman and CEO of Amgen.

One of Rathmann's chief accomplishments was finding the funds Amgen needed during its start-up years, according to a statement on the company's website. Nicknamed the "Golden Throat" by friends who admired his persuasiveness, he secured venture capital, built revenue streams through partnerships and guided Amgen through its first public offerings.

After leaving Amgen, Rathmann became CEO and chairman of Seattle-based biotech ICOS Corporation (later acquired by Eli Lilly). He later served as CEO and chairman of genomics company Hyseq, Inc.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)