The more Epogen, that is.
Just when you thought it wouldn't get any worse for Amgen, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that for-profit dialysis chains are routinely administering higher doses of Epogen than necessary, thanks to the incentivizing nature of Medicare reimbursement.
Larger doses mean more cash for the dialysis centers, but may boost red blood cells beyond what FDA considers safe. New guidelines suggest going beyond the recommended maximum 12g/dL may cause "an increased number of deaths and of non-fatal heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, and blood clots." All four of the largest for-profit chains administered siginificantly more epoetin than the largest non-profit chains, according to the study.
The more epoetin used in dialysis-related anemia (where the market is all Amgen's), the more profit. And epoetin use is certainly on the rise. According to the study:
"... between 1991 and 2005, the mean dose of epoetin increased about 4-fold in dialysis patients. Today, epoetin therapy is the largest single Medicare drug expenditure totaling $1.8 billion in 2004 (an increase of 17% from 2003) and epoetin comprised 11% of all Medicare ESRD costs."
As we noted last week upon the escape of Amgen CFO Richard Nanula, and as the usual suspects in the pharma blogosphere point out, things are far from rosy at Amgen these days, where the stock is at a 2-year low. FDA warnings, safety concerns across the board, lawsuits, even potential biogeneric competition: Amgen's EPO franchise is under siege. We'll take a look at where the Big Biotech will turn next in the May IN VIVO.