* Smart biotechs may stem damage from biosimilars
* Sensipar kidney drug could get big boost from study
(Adds details on Amgen, rival drugs, byline)
By Ransdell Pierson
NEW YORK, May 18 The chief executive of Amgen
Inc (AMGN.O) forecast on Monday that "smart" biotechnology
companies may be able to retain up to half the sales of their
drugs once they face competition from cheaper so-called
Kevin Sharer, speaking to investors at Deutsche Bank AG's
annual healthcare conference, said he believed that longer-
term, some biotechnology companies "can sustain 30 percent to
50 percent of cash flow from products if they're smart
He said that was considerably better than conventional
medicines facing generic competition, meaning pills made of
chemicals combined together rather than grown from living cells
-- as is the case with biotechnology drugs.
Conventional drugs can lose up to 90 percent of their sales
within a year once they face generic competition, in part
because many companies often begin selling heavily discounted
copycat formulations. By contrast, relatively few companies are
now capable of making generic forms of biotech drugs, referred
to as biosimilars or biogenerics.
European regulators recently approved biosimilar forms of
two Amgen drugs, Epogen for anemia and Neupogen, used to boost
infection-fighting white blood cells in patients on
chemotherapy. The two drugs are not facing biosimilar
competition in the lucrative U.S. market.
Sharer did not forecast how well Epogen and Neupogen would
fare as competition from the biosimilars intensified this year,
but his comments suggested he is confident they would not fall
off the map.
The first-quarter global sales of Epogen, an older version
of Amgen's Aranesp brand used primarily in kidney dialysis
patients, rose 2 percent to $565 million. But that was still
well below the $607 million analysts were expecting.
Combined global sales of Neupogen and Amgen's newer white
blood cell booster, Neulasta, fell 1 percent to $1.07 billion,
shy of Wall Street estimates of $1.17 billion.
Sharer said the company's Sensipar drug for kidney failure
patients could get a big sales lift if it proves able in an
ongoing study to reduce calcification in blood vessels.
Sensipar now has sales potential "close to a blockbuster
drug," Sharer said, meaning annual sales could approach $1
billion. But he said its sales could grow far beyond that if
the anti-calcification study succeeds.
Sensipar sales rose 11 percent in the first quarter to $148
(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Andre Grenon)