Amgen's Big Bet on Copycat Drugs Is Paying Off

Sales of biosimilars up 12% in 1st quarter

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Jun 27, 2022
Summary
  • Targeting AbbVie’s Humira, the best-selling medication in history.
  • Amgen’s established drugs picking up market share.
  • Stock near 52-week high, far outpacing biotech index.
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Is imitation really the highest form of flattery? It appears drug giant Amgen Inc. (

AMGN, Financial) certainly thinks so.

The California-based biotech is reaping the rewards of its work in developing copycat treatments, or biosimilars, booking sales of $970 million in the first quarter, up 12% from a year earlier. Fierce Pharma reported CEO Robert Bradway said at this year’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference that with additional launches and expansion into new geographic areas, Amgen expects to more than double its biosimilar revenue by 2030.

That aggressive projection will depend in great part on the performance of Amgen’s biosimilar for the best-selling drug in history, AbbVie Inc.'s (

ABBV, Financial) mega-blockbuster Humira, a treatment for arthritis, plaque psoriasis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Amgen expects to launch the first Humira biosimilar in late January 2023. The market is expected to get crowded after that as other pharmacutical companies vie for a share of the huge market for the drug.

The company thinks it will have a leg up on the competition because of its experience in the field, pointing to the more than $2 billion it has invested in biosimilars and its line of 11 copycat drugs, five of which have received the Food and Drug Administration's approval.

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Caption: The biotech index has been in the red over the past year while Amgen shares are up about 8%.

Amgen’s commitment to the large and growing biosimilars market should give investors another reason to like the stock, which at about $245 is pushing its 52-week high. The shares have shown resiliency this year, gaining about 8% in the face of a 21% decline in the iShares Biotechnology ETF (

IBB, Financial).

I own Amgen and will likely add to my position during the next few months for several reasons, among them its preeminent position in biosimilars, its status as the biggest biotech in the world and the performance of its homegrown medications. Three of Amgen’s most promising treatments were approved in 2021: severe asthma med Tezspire, oral plaque psoriasis therapy Otezla and lung cancer drug Lumakras.

The market for Tezspire is 2.5 million severe asthma patients, 1 million of which are in the U.S., whose disease is uncontrolled or who are eligible for treatment with a biologic, Bradway said. Meanwhile, Otezla’s uses were expanded, bringing in another 1.5 million patients. And Lumakras, already approved in 35 countries, will soon add more markets.

Amgen's more established drugs have continued to pick up market share, led by heart medication Repatha, whose sales were up 15% in the first quarter, and Prolia, whose revenue gained 12% year over year.

The company is not without its challenges. They include competition from biosimilars in Europe, the expiration of its U.S. patent for Epogen, new competition from Roche's (

RHHBY, Financial) anti-anemia drug CERA and new technology for anti-anemia that is likely to bypass its patent protections. But I think the company has the wherewithal to overcome these hurdles and continue its upward trend.

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