Wednesday, September 05, 2007

EPO Fatigue: Amgen Hopes History Doesn’t Repeat Itself

Did you ever have a recurring nightmare? That is what Amgen Inc. and Johnson & Johnson want to avoid next week when another panel of expert advisors to the Food & Drug Administration weighs in on the safety profile of EPO therapy to treat anemia in chronic renal failure patients.

The Cardiovascular & Renal Drugs Advisory Committee will discuss the safety profile of Amgen’s Epogen and Aranesp, as well as J&J’s Procrit, on September 11.

Amgen has been making the rounds on Wall Street, assuring investors that it is ready for anything at the Cardio-Renal Committee.

Why? Because the last time an FDA advisory committee met to discuss those same products—the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee in May—it did not go well. The committee recommended much stronger restrictions on use of the drugs than anyone anticipated. And things got even worse a few days later, when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a proposed coverage policy that sharply limited the drugs.

CMS compromised a bit when it issued a final coverage policy in July, but not enough to spare Amgen. The new payment rules prompted a major restructuring by the company in anticipation of a big drop in Aranesp revenues.

Now Wall Street is wondering what to expect from the nephrologists when it is their turn to review EPO.

In recent weeks, Amgen has been making the rounds to large investors and analysts with to assure them that it has a solid game plan in place for the meeting. The company says it has seen FDA’s briefing materials and they don’t look surprising or onerous. (The public will be able to see those materials on Friday or Monday, on FDA’s website.)

What will Amgen do? Here is how SVP-North American operations Jim Daly described the company’s approach back in June. Asked during a Goldman Sachs conference what the company would do differently to prepare for the Cardio-Renal Panel, Daly replied: “I think we’ve learned a lot from ODAC, which is go in prepared for a scientific discussion but also be prepared for wherever it goes.”

“I think that community also needs to play a more proactive role, and the good news here is that the nephrology community already has been very active with the FDA. Their primary concern is that they are taking an oncology dosing paradigm and imposing it on nephrology patients, and it’s a very different disease state.”

Still, Daly said, “we need to be prepared in case the agenda goes into other areas, whether it be the cost of ESAs, whether it be the utilization patterns as a result of reimbursement, I think we need to be prepared to address those.” Daly recalled a “pointed moment” in the ODAC review when “one of the physicians said does anybody here know what community oncologists do and why they do it? And the response was no, but I do know they make $1,200 a dose, therefore we can’t leave the prescribing decision in their hands.”

If the Cardio-Renal meeting “goes to that level I think that would be very disappointing, but I think we have to be prepared to deal with that. The best response will come from someone in the audience that says that is preposterous.”

In other words, expect plenty of patient and provider representation ready to speak up on Amgen’s behalf.

But will that be enough to ensure no unpleasant replay of the May ODAC meeting? Citigroup Yaron Werber doesn’t think so. The headline to Citigroup’s Aug. 30 note says it all: “Beware of CRDAC—the Bite May be Worse than Expected.”

Why is Werber concerned? Because “we have learned that Rich Pazdur, head of FDA’s oncology division, will be present in an oversight role. Given his aggressive stance, his presence in CRDAC is a clear concern.”

That seems like a lot to read into one FDA official’s participation in the meeting, but it does underscore a larger point about the regulatory response to the EPO safety issues. As Werber puts it, there is a “theme that FDA/CMS view EPO to have modest benefit w/growing evidence of harm. Thus, panel might be more contentious than expected even on dialysis.”

Werber isn’t alone in worrying. After all, several analysts note, Amgen assured them it was on top of the situation before the May ODAC meeting.

One other thing: Citigroup expects CMS to follow close on the heels of the advisory committee with a national coverage decision about use of EPO in nephrology. And, Werber warns, it is possible that the combined impact could be to make Citigroup’s forecast of a 10%-15% decline in the nephrology market in 2008 overly optimistic.

If Werber is right, Amgen investors have another tough three months to look forward to. Should make for an interesting week next week.


oppinchaos said...

History didn't repeat itself. It was a very interesting panel meeting. One thing was clear - this panel does not want the FDA to be too radical when it comes to patients with Kidney disease. For these people ESA's are too important.

Anonymous said...

History repeats itself
I think that the statement `history repeats itself` is not right. Because people are similar themselves in their arrangements and aims like power striving, fight for resources, competition, pursue in similar manner their interests, a lot looks after a repetition. But no historical situation is completely same or at least there is a similarity. And sometimes it is so similar we can’t distinguish. Also political, economic and social structures change. Every dictatorship is different. Leaders like Napoleon or Hitler had the same aim but they acted not equally. By every election or decision of the nation they always will react different. Also the means for the prevention of abuse of power can be same in many states. But somehow the effects are different. By the way the New York stock market crises from today differs from that in 1929 in a point. Every epoch has her own conditions. Nevertheless, the parallels are low at that time because the history always changes.
All in all history doesn’t repeat itself, it can be similar because there is always a difference but the history is not finished and everything can still come and change it.