Janet Franklin can't forget her high school guidance counselor's upsetting response when she told her she got into Wesleyan University. The counselor felt that she was taking a spot at the prestigious university from a more deserving classmate because Franklin, a Black student on scholarship, probably couldn't afford the tuition to begin with. Then there was the time in college when one of her pre-med professors remarked to the class (that had only a few Black students in it) how full the room was. He then said that most of the people there would not make it to the next year's class.
But none of this deterred Franklin, who would go on to become a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at the University of Southern California and Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Yet even when she was an attending physician, parents would often address one of the tall, white male residents rather than her during rounds, assuming he was the head of the team. This made her appreciate working with children in pediatric hematology even more. She said kids had no problem with what their physician looked like – they took people at face value and that inspired her.
Franklin's career in academic medicine prompted her to develop a passion for clinical research. Seeing an opportunity to use her hematology/oncology skills to make an impact on large numbers of patients, she joined Amgen. She started as a clinical research medical director and went on to hold various roles in therapeutics related to blood disorders in the Global Development group.
Proud to deliver mighty molecules
She is particularly proud of her role as global lead for BLINCYTO® (blinatumomab), one of Amgen's oncology drugs that is a bispecific T cell engager (BiTE®) antibody used to treat patients with B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Franklin worked on getting the drug approved in patients who are in remission but have minimal residual disease (MRD), where there is molecular evidence of cancer that is below a level that can be seen under a microscope. She realized that many of her past patients who had no other options, now had a new treatment to give them hope. "I knew personally the impact that this small but mighty molecule could have on the lives of patients, but also on the physicians who would now have another option to consider when caring for patients," said Franklin.
Today Franklin is vice president of Global Development, Biosimilars, at Amgen, where she uses her vast clinical research knowledge and skills to oversee the clinical development program that is designed to show that Amgen's biosimilar candidates are highly similar to, and have no clinically meaningful differences from, their refence biologics. It's a highly complex and rigorous process with unique challenges that require cross-functional collaborations for a successful development program. It's also a process that requires a leader like Franklin, who supports, develops and enables the team's success, maintaining a high level of achievement.
Franklin's interest in biosimilars stems from their potential to provide more treatment options to patients with serious illnesses. Franklin leads a motivated team working at incredible speeds to develop high quality biosimilars in Inflammation, Oncology and other therapeutic areas. Her team has repeatedly met or exceeded the company's goals, helping to bring to market five biosimilar therapeutics, with six more in development.
"Janet is a solution-oriented, empathetic leader who readily works with others to solve problems and helps provide the tools team members need to work independently," said David Reese, executive vice president of Research and Development (R&D). "With her impressive background and knowledge of clinical research, she is well-suited to the ups and downs and fast pace of biosimilar development." Her skills have improved efficiency and her insightfulness has advanced Amgen's strategically important biosimilar development programs.
The importance of mentorship and diversity
Throughout her career Franklin has always considered mentorship to be an important part of her and others' development. A mentor since college, Franklin continues to advise people from all different backgrounds. She believes it's important to be an advocate and sponsor for talent to make sure that they have the opportunity to demonstrate all of their abilities.
Franklin also leads the Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DI&B) council in the R&D organization at Amgen, where she is helping to more fully integrate DI&B into the R&D ecosystem to improve performance, innovation, problem-solving and to ensure that teams operate in an inclusive manner. In this role, Franklin has worked to expand and diversify recruitment for Amgen's educational outreach and fellowship programs. For example, she served as a liaison with key colleagues when setting up a partnership with Howard University in Washington D.C., a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). This work helps ensure a more diverse and enriched future workforce at all levels of the biotech industry. "I strongly believe diverse teams lead to better science," said Franklin.
Read more about the 2022 Fiercest Women in Life Sciences award winners.