Advertisement

Amgen Leads Biotechnology Rival in Sales

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Amgen Inc. is outselling Immunex Corp. six to one in a marketing battle of rival new biotechnology drugs expected to become the next family of gene-spliced medical blockbusters.

Analysts expect the drugs to have annual sales reaching $600 million industrywide in five years. The drugs are genetically produced laboratory copies of proteins found in the body that trigger the production of white blood cells, one of the body’s key infection fighters.

Doctors say the drugs help quell a wide array of infections, including those in patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy, bone-marrow transplants and pneumonia.

Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, sold $86.3 million worth of its Neupogen drug through June 30, after the Food and Drug Administration’s February approval of the medication. Immunex, headquartered in Seattle, sold $12.6 million worth of its drug, called Leukine, between its March introduction and June 30.

Advertisement

The early sales figures are somewhat misleading, analysts cautioned. Amgen has an experienced sales force that is three times the size of Immunex’s. Immunex, meanwhile, is selling its drug directly to hospitals, while Amgen is relying on a wholesale distribution network. As a result, Amgen booked $50 million in sales in the first few weeks of introduction as wholesalers stocked up on the new drug.

Indeed, from April 1 to June 30--when both firms’ drugs were available--Amgen’s Neupogen sales declined 37% to $33.4 million, compared to $52.9 million in the prior quarter. Meanwhile, Immunex’s sales doubled to $8.4 million.

Another advantage for Amgen was that its drug was cleared by the FDA to treat cancer chemotherapy patients, while Immunex’s was approved for treatment of bone-marrow transplant patients. The chemotherapy market is much larger. Once a drug reaches the market, however, doctors are free to prescribe it as they choose.

Which product eventually becomes the drug of choice may depend on the results of head-to-head tests of the two products under way. David Stone, biotechnology analyst with the investment firm Cowen & Co. in Boston, said he expects initial test results to be announced in the fall at various medical conferences.

Advertisement

For now, Stone said: “Amgen has the advantage of momentum. But I don’t think you can say that Amgen’s sales are growing faster than Immunex’s.”

Partly because of Amgen’s strong sales, its stock hit a record high last week of $150 per share; it closed Monday at $145.25, down $1.50 in national over-the-counter trading. Immunex, meanwhile, closed Monday at $46.50.


Advertisement