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Amgen aims to restock its medicine cabinet

Biotechnology firm Amgen recently falls short of first-quarter sales targets but is confident many of the drugs it has in development will be approved.

May 06, 2013|By Stuart Pfeifer, Los Angeles Times
  • Founded in 1980, Amgen has developed a solid lineup of medications that make it one of the largest biotech companies in the United States. Above, a researcher at Amgen headquarters in Thousand Oaks.
Founded in 1980, Amgen has developed a solid lineup of medications that… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

Amgen Inc. is a biotechnology company that develops medicines used in the treatment of cancer, kidney disease, arthritis, bone disease and other serious illnesses.

The Thousand Oaks company's top-selling products include arthritis medication Enbrel, osteoporosis drug Prolia and anemia medicines Aranesp and Epogen. And its Neulasta helps the body generate white-blood cells to prevent infection during chemotherapy treatment.

Amgen earned $4.3 billion last year on record revenue of $17.3 billion. The company recently reported its first-quarter results — a profit of $1.4 billion and sales of $4.2 billion. It employs 18,000 people worldwide.

"Overall, the company is executing well," Amgen Chief Executive Bob Bradway said in a quarterly conference call with analysts.

The latest

Amgen has a robust pipeline of upcoming drugs, said Sean E. Harper, the company's vice president of research and development.

Among them are a cholesterol-lowering drug named AMG 145, an ovarian cancer drug called AMG 386 and another cancer treatment called talimogene laherparepvec. All three drugs are in the final phase of clinical testing.

Harper said the company was confident that many of the drugs it has in development will be approved. The wider use of advanced genetic sequencing has vastly improved the ability to target promising therapies based more on variations in human genes rather than relying solely on animal experiments, he said.

Amgen bolstered its drug-discovery capabilities last year with the $415-million acquisition of Decode Genetics, an Iceland company known for finding links between genetic variations and disease.

"That human insight is of extremely high value," Harper said. "Mice and humans diverged about 65 million years ago. They are not terribly good surrogates for us."

Accomplishments

Founded in 1980, Amgen has developed a solid lineup of medications that make it one of the largest biotech companies in the United States.

One of its most profitable drugs, Epogen, to treat anemia, also was one of its first. It stemmed from Amgen co-founder George B. Rathmann's early goal to find the gene for erythropoietin. Known as EPO, the hormone is thought to trigger the body's production of red blood cells that carry oxygen.

After years of research, Amgen unlocked the genetic combination to EPO and later secured a patent.

Today, Amgen's products are sold in more than 50 countries, and the company has plans to reach 75 countries by 2015.

Its growth prospects also are tied to research and development, just as they were under Rathmann's direction three decades ago. The company spent $3.4 billion last year on researching and developing drugs, according to regulatory filings.

Challenges

Investors were not pleased with first-quarter results two weeks ago, especially revenue. The company's sales were about $130 million short of what analysts had expected.

The company's stock fell 7% on the first day of trading after the news, the largest single-day loss for the stock since February 2009.

"This is a negative quarter," Judson Clark, an analyst with Edward Jones & Co., told Bloomberg News. "The bigger question mark is their sales numbers. It was a pretty broad-based disappointment."

Sales of Aranesp, one of its anemia drugs, fell 10% to $468 million in the first quarter, and Epogen, an older version, declined 2% to $435 million. Sales of Enbrel, the arthritis medication, were 11% higher than in the first quarter last year, but less than some analysts expected.

Analyst opinions

Fourteen analysts recommend buying the stock, 17 suggest holding it and one believes investors should sell the stock. Analysts' average 12-month target price for the stock is $111.27.

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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