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AMGEN RISE BIOTECH COMPANY CREATES ITS OWN BOOM.

Byline: Evan Pondel Staff Writer

THOUSAND OAKS - Amgen Inc. looks every bit the world's leading biotechnology company.

In the past 10 years, sales have grown four-fold. In the past year, the company had $4 billion in revenues. And in the past six months, three groundbreaking drugs have won regulatory approval.

Not bad for a company that started out making growth hormones for chickens and dye for blue jeans.

``They're not really a biotechnology company anymore. They're acting like a pharma,'' said Stefan Loren, analyst with Legg Mason in Baltimore.

One hypothesis regarding Amgen's productivity: Kevin Sharer, chief executive officer.

``(Former CEO) Gordon Binder managed to the stock price, and Kevin manages to the company,'' Loren said.

For two years, Sharer has been at the helm of Amgen, tinkering with the company's management team to adjust to the ebb and flow of the economy. Sharer was named CEO following Binder's retirement.

``He is a very good leader for Amgen. The company is at an inflection point and (Sharer) is capable of taking the company to the next level,'' said Jennifer Chao, analyst with Leerink Swann & Co. in Boston.

The company would not make Sharer available for comment.

But his success is obvious. In the past year, Sharer has hired three directors from major pharmaceutical companies to drive Amgen's growth. And he's been at the helm for three breakthrough drugs - Neulasta, Kineret and Aranesp.

Just Friday, the company announced that the Food and Drug Administration approved its infection-fighting drug Neulasta. A more potent form of Neupogen, Neulasta is used to boost the immune system of cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. The approval of Neulasta could command sales, when combined with Neupogen, to $2 billion a year by 2005, Amgen officials have said.

William Parker, director, product development for Nuelasta, said the drug was developed to reduce the administration of Neupogen. ``It goes from just a second generation (of Neupogen) toward another side of the spectrum, making it easier for people to take this drug.''

Neupogen must be injected daily for up to 14 days, while Neulasta is injected once after the patient receives chemotherapy.

While Amgen doesn't anticipate Neulasta absorbing Neupogen's market, analysts believe otherwise.

``Neulasta will capture the low-hanging fruit on Neupogen sales,'' Chao said. ``And then Neulasta will most likely cannibalize Neupogen.''

Another recent addition to Amgen's arsenal, Kineret, targets patients who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Chao said Kineret, which was approved in November, is an integral piece to Amgen's diversification because it rounds out the company's product pipeline.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects 1 percent of all Americans, with women 2.5 times as likely to contract the autoimmune disease than men, according to the American College of Rheumatology. Though Amgen's target audience for Kineret is significantly smaller than for its other products, analysts are projecting annual sales to reach $350 million by 2005.

``Rheumatoid arthritis strips away your human dignity and this drug (Kineret) can help restore that,'' said Kevin Young, vice president of marketing.

Completing the trifecta is Amgen's Aranesp, an anemia drug that opens the door to another multibillion-dollar market. The FDA approved Aranesp for dialysis and predialysis purposes only; however, it's far more powerful than the existing treatment found under the names Epogen and Procrit. Epogen is manufactured by Amgen and Procrit is made by Johnson & Johnson.

``With these new drugs, Amgen is on the cusp of its third decade,'' said Anthony Gringeri, vice president of product development.

Gringeri, who has been with the company for 10 years, said Amgen has gone through a tremendous metamorphosis in the past two years. When Binder led the company, he said, there were visions of where Amgen would be 10 or 20 years from now. With Sharer as CEO, those dreams have come to fruition.

``Kevin looks at the company from soup to nuts to see if the company is operating at maximum efficiency,'' he said. ``He's changed the governance of the company ... with senior management meeting regularly and working as a team.''

Looking ahead, Gringeri foresees the field of inflammation as a major growth area. Amgen's recent acquisition of a rival will help in the development.

Shares in Amgen fell when it announced plans last December to purchase rival Immunex Corp. for $16 billion in stock and cash but quickly rebounded on a rating upgrade to ``strong buy'' from Lehman Brothers. Amgen was down $1.51, 2.6 percent, to close at $56.37 Monday.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Bill Parker, Amgen product development director, holds a box of Neulasta, an infection-fighting drug just OK'd by the FDA.Amgen's laboratories have been a hotbed of new biotechnology discoveries.

(2 -- color) Amgen's laboratories have been a hotbed of new biotechnology discoveries.

John Lazar/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 5, 2002
Words:787
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