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Amgen: Is "A" For Anemia Or Acquisition?

Friday, 25 Apr 2008 | 12:35 PM ET
AMGEN
AMGEN

The morning after Amgen reported its first quarter earnings my inbox runneth over with analyst research reports on the biotech behemoth. The company beat the Street by eight cents a share. But the focus remains on the anemia drug franchise.

And sales of Aranesp and Epogen continue to go down. One saw a sequential (fourth quarter to first quarter) drop of $66 million and the other fell $84 million. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to announce its new guidelines/restrictions on the use of the drugs on certain cancer patients who get fatigued from chemo and that, analysts say, could put even more pressure on sales.

Meantime, Amgen and some investors are pinning their hopes for the future on an osteoporosis drug that will roll out major data this year. Although several analysts are raising red flags about potential safety hurdles for that twice-a-year treatment.

But at least a couple of analysts are using the "A" word in their notes to clients. Leerink Swann's Bill Tanner writes, "We believe the shares are approaching a critical juncture where denosumab (the bone drug, aka D-mab, for short) fracture data in postmenopausal osteoporosis could revive top and bottom line growth or drive the company into the arms of an acquiror." (I checked and that word can apparently be spelled with an "er" or an "or".)

Bernstein's Geoffrey Porges is much more bearish and direct. He writes, "Amgen is now like a trouble magnet." Ouch. But he doesn't stop there. "We think this painful cycle can only be ended by the emergence of an important and compelling new product, or products, or by changes in its structure, management and ownership of the company." Amgen is going through a major restructuring, cost-cutting program.

Bernstein and Leerink Swann make a market in AMGN.

Finally, a nod about what I'm immodestly going to call, "The Huckman Hat Trick." Unprecedented--for me, at least--back-to-back-to-back exclusive CEO interviews this week with Merck's Dick Clark on Monday,Schering-Plough'sFred Hassan on Wednesday and Pfizer'sJeff Kindler yesterday. So, thanks to them and their people for making it happen.

In addition, Lilly's John Lechleiter and GlaxoSmithKline's JP Garnier made appearances on "Squawk Box" on their respective earnings days. I wonder if there was a meeting of the pharma CEO club where they decided they needed to start publicly talking up the industry and the challenges it faces. In a down economy when drug stocks are historically defensive, the AMEX pharmaceutical index is off about 10 percent so far this year.

And, by the way, the day after I asked Hassan if he'd bought or when he would buy the $2 million worth of stock he'd promised earlier this year that he'd eventually pick up, the out-of-pocket purchase went through.That's less than one-month's "salary" for Hassan, though, because the day of our interview the company revealed in its proxy statement that Hassan received total compensation last year of 30 million bucks. SGP shares had a nice run-up in 2007 and didn't really fall off a cliff until the Vyotrin-Zetia controversy unfolded this year.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com

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