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AMGEN TO FIGHT PROSTATE CANCER.

Byline: Ben Sullivan Daily News Staff Writer

Biotechnology drug maker Amgen Inc. said Wednesday it will spend $100 million to co-develop and market a drug to treat prostate cancer.

The deal, announced after the close of U.S. stock markets, is with privately held Praecis Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. Praecis created the drug abarelix and has ushered it through two of the three stages of testing necessary for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to consider it for approval.

Abarelix fights prostate tumors by reducing to virtually zero the amount of the sex hormone testosterone, which has been linked to the growth of prostate cancer cells in a man's body. Two existing drugs made by Zeneca Inc. and Tap Pharmaceuticals do essentially the same thing, but Amgen spokesman David Kaye said abarelix works faster and has fewer side effects than those products.

Kaye said abarelix is also in early testing for treatment of endometriosis, a painful condition in women resulting from abnormal growth of the lining of the uterus.

Analysts greeted Wednesday's announcement coolly. ``What's the edge? I just don't get it,'' said AmeriCal Securities analyst Charles Engelberg, who is himself an oncologist. ``This is the third in a class of drugs that has some application in prostate cancer, but by no means is it a breakthrough.''

Engelberg noted that Amgen's most recent drug to market, the hepatitis C treatment Infergen, likewise was a product entering a niche already occupied by well-entrenched competition. Engelberg added that the patent for at least one of the current testosterone inhibitors will expire in the next few years, presenting abarelix with a potential host of generic competitors in what is now an $800 million-per-year market.

Kaye said generics would be largely irrelevant to the product's success. ``If abarelix were a me-too drug, that would be true, but it's far from that. There is clearly benefit from working more quickly. It truly is an improvement on currently available drugs,'' he said.

Following the blockbuster success of Amgen's first two drugs, Epogen and Neupogen, each of which generate more than $1 billion in sales annually, the company has sought new products to launch. While Amgen's pipeline is considered full in the long-term, it has few new drugs currently slated for release in the coming three to five years.

Amgen shares gained $3.0625 Wednesday to close at $70.50.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 11, 1999
Words:395
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