Is Amgen turning into a big pharma?

By Emilie Reymond

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Drugs Erythropoietin Amgen

Biotech titan Amgen announced yesterday the acquisition of a small
molecule developer - the second buyout of this type in less than a

The California-based firm said it will buy Alantos, a private company developing drugs for the treatment of diabetes and inflammatory diseases, for $300m (€222m). Massachusetts-based Alantos' lead drug candidate - ALS 2-0426 - is a Dipeptidyl Peptidase (DPP) IV inhibitor in clinical development for the treatment of Type II diabetes and as a Matrix Metalloproteinases Platform (MMP) for osteoarthritis. "We are pleased to add this clinical stage DPP-IV inhibitor to our growing portfolio of therapeutics for the treatment of metabolic diseases,"​ said Roger Perlmutter, Amgen's executive vice president for Research and Development. "We also intend to pursue the MMP program with the hope of bringing a novel, disease modifying therapy into the clinic for osteoarthritis." ​ The biotech firm is starving for new drug candidates but has opted for a shopping spree in an unsuspected area - small molecules - rather than adding more biologic products to its pipeline. On Monday, Amgen snapped up another small molecule developer, Ilypsa, for $420m. The private biotechnology company is developing a novel drug for the treatment of elevated blood phosphate (hyperphosphataemia) in chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients. The clinical candidate is also in Phase II trials. ​ If Ilypsa and Alantos' products are proved to be effective and become available on the market, they will join Amgen's array of biological products aimed at fighting complications related to CKD, such as Aranesp (darbepoetin alfa) and Epogen (epoetin alfa), which treat anaemia by boosting red blood cells. However, Aranesp and Epogen have recently been under intense scrutiny after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raised safety concerns regarding the entire class of drugs in which they belong, erythropoiesis (EPO)-stimulating agents. The FDA recently strengthened the warning labels for EPOs to emphasise on their potential severe side effects when used in high doses or to treat diseases they are not approved for. An FDA advisory committee soon afterwards released strong additional recommendations for use of the drugs to treat cancer and another FDA panel is expected to meet later this year to consider their use for patients with kidney disease. It seems that through these acquisitions, the firm is trying to diversify its portfolio in anticipation of a greater impact on sales than expected. The newly acquired products could help soften the blow from the potential sales damage its two EPO blockbusters - ILY101 is predicted to have a potential market of up to $1bn by 2015, according to some analysts. However, Amgen would have to bag itself several other deals to make up for the potential revenue loss that it may encounter as Aranesp and Epogen generated a whopping $6.6bn last year, almost half of the firm's total revenue. Amgen failed to return a call from asking for comments on the two acquisitions.

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