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Amgen profit dips

Biotech company Amgen has reported a net profit loss for the third quarter of 2010, with the figure falling to $1.24bn

The biotechnology giant Amgen has reported a net profit for the third-quarter of $1.24bn, or $1.28 per share, reflecting a dip compared to a profit of $1.39bn, or $1.36 per share, a year ago. However, the company managed to beat financial analysts' expectations for the quarter due to lower-than-expected taxes and expenses.

Sales of Amgen's recently launched osteoporosis drug Prolia (denosumab) were disappointing, coming in at just $10m for the quarter. However, the product's sales could increase significantly if the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clears a pending application to approve Prolia for bone problems in patients with advanced cancer. Amgen executives said during a conference call with investors that they expect the FDA's decision on the new indication by November 18.

The executives said that the lacklustre launch of Prolia so far has been mostly due to reimbursement hurdles that the company believes can be overcome. "Doctors and their offices are working to become accustomed to the new reimbursement dynamics Prolia often represents for them," CEO Kevin Sharer said. "Once this reimbursement process is mastered and they gain experience, I'm confident usage will be significant."

Robert Bradway, who recently became Amgen's chief operating officer, said during the call that Amgen's current objective in the US "is to establish a positive experience with Prolia in a select audience of specialists and high-prescribing primary care physicians" by educating them on the clinical importance of Prolia and helping them navigate the reimbursement process.

"Discussions with healthcare providers are taking a bit longer for Prolia as a new biologic with a novel mechanism of action than what we would find with the traditional launch," Bradway said, but he stressed that the challenge was "no surprise."

The executives said that Amgen is considering a direct-to-consumer marketing campaign for Prolia that would launch in mid-to-late 2011 after awareness of the drug has been built among physicians.

With most of the company's other drugs performing well, but partnership income dropping following a recall of the anaemia drug Procrit (epoetin alfa), total revenue for the quarter was flat compared to last year, coming in at $3.82bn.

Amgen had $17bn in cash and marketable securities at the end of the quarter. Asked by a financial analyst on the call about those assets, Sharer said the company expects to continue to build up cash over the next few years and will "first and foremost" focus on a return to shareholders. "The other thing we're always on the lookout for is opportunities to improve our product pipeline…and to bring us into some markets, particularly emerging markets in Japan, where we don't currently have operations on the ground," the CEO said.

Jonathan Peacock, the company's recently appointed CFO, said during the call that Amgen is re-affirming its full year guidance on revenues at slightly below $15.1bn and adjusted EPS towards the lower end of its previously announced range of $5.05 to $5.25.

26th October 2010

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