Amgen, Watson partner on 'biosimilar' cancer drugs

AP News
Posted: Dec 19, 2011 6:56 PM
Amgen, Watson partner on 'biosimilar' cancer drugs

The world's biggest biotech firm and a leading generic drugmaker said Monday they are teaming up to produce "biosimilar" versions of several biologic medicines for cancer, an important partnership in a future niche that many hope will lower costs of some of the most expensive medicines.

Amgen Inc., a maker of biologic drugs for cancer, kidney disease and rheumatoid arthritis, said it's partnering with Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc., which makes both generic medicines and branded drugs for women's health and for urologic conditions.

Together, they plan to develop and then sell what are called biosimilars or follow-on biologics, medicines similar to innovative biologic drugs but not identical in the way generic drugs are copies of brand-name pills.

Biologic drugs are complex, injected drugs "manufactured" in living cells, rather than by mixing chemical compounds together and turning them into pills.

Biologics generally treat serious diseases, particularly cancer and various immune disorders. They are prohibitively expensive for uninsured patients, sometimes costing close to $100,000 for a course of treatment.

Biosimilars are expected to be somewhat cheaper, but because they are such complex molecules and the manufacturing process is so intricate, they won't carry the huge discounts that come with generic pills.

On Monday, Amgen and Watson said they will combine their expertise to produce biosimilar drugs, under a new joint Amgen/Watson brand. None will be biosimilar versions of Amgen's brand-name medicines, which include Neulasta for preventing infections in cancer patients, Enbrel for rheumatoid arthritis and Epogen for treating anemia in cancer patients.

"Biosimilars provide an exciting long-term growth opportunity for Amgen," Robert A. Bradway, president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.

Under the deal, Amgen will have the main responsibility for developing and manufacturing the biosimilar cancer drugs. Watson will contribute up to $400 million toward those costs, then will focus on marketing any eventual products. Watson will receive royalties and other payments based on the level of product sales.

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The Food and Drug Administration has been crafting regulations that would allow it to approve the first biosimilar drugs in this country. A few have been approved in Europe, and a few U.S.-based pharmaceutical firms, including Merck & Co., have set up divisions to develop biosimilar drugs.

Earlier this year, Amgen told analysts that it intended to enter the field.

Watson's president and CEO, Paul Bisaro, said in a statement that the "collaboration delivers on the Watson promise to be a leader in the field of biosimilars."

"We believe that biosimilars are the next frontier in the evolution of the healthcare market," he said.