TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – Amgen will pay $200 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit with Ortho Biotech Products, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, which claimed that Amgen’s deep discounts forced cancer clinics to buy its Aranesp drug rather than Johnson & Johnson’s Procrit. Both drugs are used to treat anemia in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Amgen, the world’s biggest biotechnology company, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., allegedly imposed steep penalties on oncology clinics that did not buy up to 75 percent of their erythropoietin (EPO) red blood cell-boosting products from Amgen. Aranesp is a longer-lasting version of the EPO kidney disease treatment drug Epogen. It is a competitor of Procrit, which cancer clinics use to fight blood-cell reduction caused by chemotherapy as an alternative to a blood transfusion.
Amgen allegedly offered discounts on Neulasta and Neupogen, which bolster infection-fighting white blood cells, if clinics purchased more Aranesp. Amgen controls 98 percent of the market for white-cell boosters while Johnson & Johnson has no comparable drug, the lawsuit stated.
Johnson & Johnson claimed that without the discounts, clinics would lose money on Neulasta after Medicare reimbursements.
Johnson & Johnson claimed the drug “bundling” was an effort to push Procrit out of the market, which Amgen licensed to Johnson & Johnson in 1985. According to the lawsuit, Procrit’s clinic sales fell to 34 percent from 55 percent in the first quarter of 2004, after discounting favored Amgen’s Aranesp, a newer drug that can be taken less frequently than Procrit.
Total Aranesp sales fell 12 percent last year to $3.6 million while Procrit sales slipped 9 percent to $2.9 billion, following a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that red blood cell boosting drugs increase the risk of death by 10 percent and blood clots by 57 percent, a finding Ortho Biotech claimed was inaccurate. Both companies have suffered sales due to ongoing safety concerns with the drugs, and the Food and Drug Administration recently toughened warning labels, warning of potentially fatal side effects of high doses.
Amgen denies any illegal conduct as part of the settlement agreement. The case pending in New Jersey District Court will be dismissed with prejudice.