AMGEN BOOSTS BLOOD CELLS — AND SALESIn the mid-’80s, scientists at a small California biotech company named Amgen discovered a way to manufacture a protein gene to help anemics make new red blood cells. Too small to take its Epogen product worldwide, Amgen retained the rights to market it for U.S. dialysis patients and licensed the drug to Johnson & Johnson, which sells it under the Procrit name.
Amgen is now a nearly $4 billion company and ready to take on J&J, as well as other competitors, with an improved anemia drug called Aranesp. The drug has a longer half-life than Epogen, which means patients can get an injection at their doctor’s office once a week or biweekly, rather than the Epogen dosage of three shots per week. Amgen is gearing up to market Aranesp aggressively, with not only a traditional physician education plan, but also a direct-to-consumer campaign. The expected outcome: A revenue stream that will more than double within four years, say Amgen executives.
More than 6 million people have anemia from kidney failure, chemo-therapy, surgery side effects, and chronic disease, Amgen says. With a population that’s aging and nutrition that’s increasingly inadequate because of Americans’ dependence on convenience foods — poor diets contribute to anemia because iron is required for synthesis of red blood cells — even more will be diagnosed with what Amgen calls medical anemia (a hemoglobin count of less than 12).
This new drug will help Amgen grow to $8 or $9 billion in sales by 2005, executives say. And they’re not alone; analysts called its 20 percent earning per share estimate for 2002 conservative. “It’s rare when everything lines up like this. We’ve got the breakthrough product, the financial resources behind it, and millions of patients who need it,” says Mike Narachi, vice president and general manager of Amgen’s anemia business. “We’re ready.”