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Amgen Takes Big Lead Over Immunex in Sales of Anti-Infection Drugs

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Amgen Inc. is outselling Immunex Corp. by 6 to 1 in a marketing battle of rival new biotechnology drugs that combat a wide variety of infections. Analysts expect these drugs to become the next family of biotechnology blockbuster products, with annual sales reaching $600 million industrywide in five years.

The similar 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 and bone marrow transplants, or who have 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 drug.

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Immunex, headquartered in Seattle, sold $12.6 million worth of its drug, called Leukine, between its March introduction and June 30.

However, in the quarter that ended June 30, 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 in the June quarter.

The early sales figures are somewhat misleading, analysts cautioned, because Amgen has an experienced sales force that is three times the size of Immunex’s, and Immunex 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.

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Another advantage for Amgen was that its drug was cleared by the FDA to treat cancer chemotherapy patients, a much larger market than bone marrow transplants, which is what Immunex’s drug was approved for.

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 now under way.

David Stone, biotechnology analyst with the investment firm Cowen & Co. in Boston, said he expects first test results to be announced in the fall at various medical conferences.

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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 due to Amgen’s strong sales, its stock hit a record high last week of $149.75 per share and closed Monday at $145.25 in national over-the-counter trading. Immunex, meanwhile, closed Monday at $46.50 a share.


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