(Adds details from analyst meeting)
By Deena Beasley
LOS ANGELES, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Taking a leaf out of the marketing playbook of President-elect Barack Obama, biotechnology company Amgen Inc (AMGN.O) plans to make use of the Internet and social networking sites to market its drugs to consumers.
Speaking to analysts at a meeting in New York, George Morrow, the company’s global head of commercial operations, said Obama’s expert use of the Internet had probably won him the election and that Amgen likewise plans “exquisite” use of the Internet as a marketing tool.
“This is much less expensive than a traditional direct-to-consumer advertising effort,” he said.
Morrow’s comments came as the Thousand Oaks, California-based company outlined its goals for the next five years in an upbeat presentation that sent Amgen’s shares up more than 3 percent.
Amgen gave an overview of its pipeline of experimental drugs, giving particular attention to its bone-strengthening drug denosumab, which has shown great promise in treating post-menopausal osteoporosis and is expected to be the company’s next big growth driver.
Amgen’s fortunes have suffered over the past year or two as safety concerns have hit sales of its biggest product, the anemia drug Aranesp. But high expectations for denosumab have helped lift the company’s stock nearly 28 percent so far this year, compared with a drop of 15 percent for the American Stock Exchange Biotech index .BTK over the same period.
The company said it expects to file for approval of the drug at the end of this year or early next year, and investors are watching to see how Amgen will commercialize the product — especially whether it will partner the product with another company.
Denosumab, given twice a year by injection, is the first in a new class of drugs designed to inhibit proteins that activate bone-destroying cells. Competitors would include drugs like Merck & Co Inc’s (MRK.N) Fosamax, which is also available as a low-cost generic.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Sharer said Amgen is entertaining partnership discussions, but is wary of signing away any long-term value in the drug in return for short-term gains — particularly in the United States, where the company believes its own sales force could market the drug by itself.
But a partnership outside the United States could be attractive, especially in navigating the challenges of reimbursement regulations, he said.
Sharer conceded that the current economic environment will be a challenge for Amgen, as it will for many other companies, but he said there are reasons to be optimistic about the new administration.
“President-elect Obama has been positive about his desire to see innovation,” he said.
Sharer said he believes Obama is committed to proper funding for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for approving new drugs, and to seeing that the agency has a strong leader.
The FDA has been criticized by some industry experts for an increasingly risk-averse stance that they claim is delaying the approval of potentially important new medicines.
As Amgen moves forward with denosumab — which it is also developing to treat bone loss in cancer patients — it is also shoring up its anemia drug franchise.
The company said sales of its troubled anemia drug Aranesp are likely to fall another 10 to 20 percent before bottoming out in the first half of next year.
Third-quarter Aranesp sales rose 3 percent to $845 million, while sales of Epogen, Amgen’s older anemia drug for patients with chronic kidney disease, increased 5 percent to $634 million.
Sharer said Amgen now has the opportunity, over the next five years, to increase revenue and adjusted earnings per share “at industry-leading levels,” though he declined to specify which companies he considers industry-leading.
In afternoon Nasdaq trading, Amgen shares were up $1.91 or 3.4 percent to $58.47. (Additional reporting by Toni Clarke, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)