Denosumab could revive Amgen

Amgen's long search for a way to strengthen weak bones has led scientists to denosumab, a product  that may stop tumors from spreading beyond soft tissue. And analysts are speculating that this discovery may help revive the company's fortunes, according to Bloomberg.

U.S. regulators are weighing whether to clear the drug, denosumab, to treat osteoporosis in aging women. That use may spur sales of $1.4 billion annually by 2014, says Craig Gordon, a Cowen & Co. analyst. Findings set to be reported this year may also show whether denosumab stops cancer from migrating into bones, a benefit that would push global sales to $6 billion, Gordon adds, almost twice that of Amgen's current top seller.

"The bone microenvironment is very rich soil for cancer to grow," Matthew Smith, program director of genitourinary oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston, said in a Jan. 12 telephone interview. "Denosumab changes that microenvironment by inhibiting bone turnover. It may also have a direct antitumor effect."

Sales of Amgen's anemia drugs, which account for about a third of the company's revenue, have been slipping-falling roughly 16 percent in two years through 2008 on safety issues. Studies supporting denosumab's cancer benefit may help boost the shares about 20 percent this year, analysts say.

Last August, an FDA expert panel voted unanimously to back denosumab for the treatment of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. However, the panel also supported limiting the use of denosumab to women with a history of fractures or a high risk of fractures, a move likely to slice into the blockbuster drug's market potential.

- check out Bloomberg's coverage

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