LOS ANGELES — Amgen Inc., the world’s largest biotechnology firm, said Thursday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved its latest immunity-boosting drug for cancer patients, Neulasta.
The Thousand Oaks.-based company said Neulasta is an improved version of its $1 billion a-year drug Neupogen, which boosts white blood cell production in patients receiving chemotherapy.
Neupogen requires daily injections for seven to 10 days, which can be trying for many patients. Neulasta, on the other hand, needs only one injection, because it is constructed from larger molecules that the kidneys can’t wash out of the body, said Ken Keller, Amgen’s senior director of marketing.
Amgen hopes to launch the new drug in April. It will continue to sell Neupogen, however, as Neulasta does not have FDA approval to treat bone marrow transplant patients, leukemia patients or children, Keller said.
Some 1.5 million patients receive chemotherapy in the United States each year. About 400,000 of those are at risk of getting an infection because their white blood cell count drops, Keller said.
Amgen hopes doctors will prescribe more chemotherapy patients with Neulasta before they get sick, because it is easier to administer than Neupogen.
“The biggest upside is more patients,” Keller said.
By 2005, the company expects both drugs combined to produce revenue of $2 billion a year.
In the fourth quarter of 2001, sales of Neupogen increased 13 percent from a year earlier to $353 million.
The company posted profit of $1.1 billion on sales of $4 billion in 2001.
With the introduction of Neulasta, Amgen plans to phase out production of Leukine, the immunity-boosting drug made by Immunex Corp., the Seattle-based company Amgen announced in December it was buying for $16.8 billion.