Amgen Gets an Assist

The stock rallies after a study calms fears about its Aranesp anemia drug.
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That sound you hear is

Amgen

(AMGN) - Get Report

breathing a huge sigh of relief.

The biotech giant announced Thursday that its Aranesp anemia drug was not contributing to the deaths of patients in a phase III lung cancer trial that was seen by many as make-or-break for the company's most important drug franchise.

Amgen shares had jumped more than 6% in early Thursday trading to $63.97.

The so-called Study 145 of Aranesp showed no statistically significant difference in the risk of death between patients receiving Aranesp compared with patients who took a placebo, according to Amgen.

The hazard ratio for overall survival in the trial was 0.93 -- translated into English, that means that Aranesp patients had a 93% chance of dying compared with those taking placebo. Said another way, there was a trend toward survival in the trial that favored Aranesp.

The fear going into these results was that Aranesp would actually work against lung cancer patients, resulting in more deaths in the Aranesp group than those taking a placebo. There were some well-grounded reasons for optimism, too, as I

pointed out yesterday.

Study 145 enrolled 600 newly diagnosed patients with small-cell lung cancer. The study was designed to investigate whether Aranesp -- by boosting a patient's hemoglobin level above currently recommended target levels and "oxygenating" tumors -- can sensitize those tumors to chemotherapy, thereby increasing survival.

Amgen shares have been battered this year by fears that Aranesp might actually be harmful to cancer patients, especially when used to take patients to higher hemoglobin levels than what is currently recommended on the drug's label.

Aranesp sales totaled $4.1 billion in 2006, accounting for 30% of Amgen's total product revenue. If Study 145 had come out negative for Aranesp, a significant portion of that revenue could have been in jeopardy.

Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for RealMoney.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback;

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