January 10, 2008 / 9:27 PM / 12 years ago

Amgen salespeople allege improper Enbrel promotion

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two former salespeople for Amgen Inc are suing the company for lost wages and other compensation after refusing to participate in improper promotion of the company’s blockbuster psoriasis drug Enbrel, their attorney said on Thursday.

The two former representatives claim that Amgen encouraged its sales force to illegally access patient records to induce insurance carriers to pay for the pricey drug, said attorney Lydia Cotz.

She is representing Elena Ferrante of Montvale, New Jersey, who was terminated by Amgen in 2005, and Mark Engelman of Laguna Niguel, California, who resigned from the company last year.

Amgen said in a statement it believes the suits are without merit.

“Our sales creed emphasizes that Amgen sales representatives follow compliance guidelines with absolute consistency,” the company said.

Both cases are under arbitration as called for in employment agreements, Cotz said.

Amgen’s sales of Enbrel, which it acquired as part of its 2002 takeover of Immunex Corp, totaled $2.9 billion in 2006.

The injectable drug, which is designed to block an inflammation-causing protein called tumor necrosis factor, has an annual cost of about $16,000 for a psoriasis patient,

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has authority to review prescription drug marketing, said the agency does not comment on whether or not it is investigating a particular company.

Enbrel is approved only for treating moderate to severe psoriasis, but Cotz said her clients were expected to engage in promotion efforts that sometimes included patients with less severe disease.

Ken Keller, vice president and general manager of Amgen’s inflammation unit, said in a December interview that the company’s biggest challenge in promoting Enbrel use by psoriasis patients was educating patients, insurers and physicians about the advantages of biologic treatments for psoriasis.

He said that in response Amgen had stepped up efforts to assist dermatology practices with reimbursement services, including operation of a call center.

Amgen’s efforts to promote Enbrel, which has been on the market since 1995 as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, come amid increasing competition between expensive biologic drugs and a perception that many psoriasis patients are not being adequately treated.

A recent survey conducted by the National Psoriasis Foundation found that 73 percent of patients with moderate psoriasis and 57 percent with severe forms of the disease were being treated only with topical creams.

Johnson and Johnson’s arthritis drug Remicade is already approved for treating psoriasis. Abbott Laboratories Inc is awaiting U.S. approval to market its tnf- blocker, Humira, for psoriasis patients and other drugs are in development.

Reporting by Deena Beasley; Editing by Andre Grenon

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