This Biochemist Who Discovered EPO Has Had a Tremendous Impact on Thousand Oaks


Last Friday, Eugene Goldwasser died at his home in Chicago at the age of 88. While Eugene Goldwasser is not exactly well known by the general public, his greatest accomplishment changed the course of the biotech industry and the world in 1977 when he isolated the human protein erythropoietin "EPO."

EPO stimulates the production of red blood cells. It is a blockbuster product with over $5 billion in annual revenues for local Amgen because it has changed the lives of millions of dialysis patients and others suffering anemia due to the effects of other diseases. Without Eugene Goldwasser, Thousand Oaks and Ventura County most likely would be much different today, as Amgen employs roughly 10,000 people locally in 4 million square feet of office space! Amgen is the largest private employer in Ventura County today!

It took Goldwasser 20 years to isolate EPO, starting in 1957, when he discovered EPO in minute quantities of anemic rats (now that sounds like fun).

Then by 1971 his lab purified six millionths of an ounce of EPO from 125 gallons of plasma from anemic sheep.

In 1973 a Japanese anemia doctor collected 673 gallons of urine from his anemic patients. (I think someone should have told Mike Rowe, The Dirty Jobs guy, but he was only 11 years old at the time.) From that pee, Goldwasser's team isolated eight milligrams of EPO and perked up anemic rats like a charm!

Seeing the huge unmet need of EPO, the next step was to clone the gene and produce it in enough quantities to create a drug. Local Amgen scientist Fu-Kuen Lin and his lab figured this out in two years and the rest is history. Amgen figured out how to manufacture the drug by propogating the cells in a fermentation process (Kirin Brewery helped them on this!) and starting selling it under brand name Epogen in 1989.  It was Amgen's first drug and it was and still is a blockbuster.