Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fat Chance Company's New Drug Would Be a Bonanza All-Round

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fat Chance Company's New Drug Would Be a Bonanza All-Round

Article excerpt

A 400-pound woman called to plead her case - that she had tried every weight-loss plan known, none had worked, and could she please have the new fat-reduction drug. Then there was the obese man who didn't care about how dangerous the drug might be, or its wcost, he just wanted it.

So did 1,000 other desperate obese people who contacted Amgen, the Thousand Oaks biotechnology company and its research team, all looking for the "fat gene" drug that in tests cut body weight by as much as 40 percent in only one month.

Wall Street wants the fat drug too. In two days after the latest lab results in July, the value of Amgen's stock climbed by $900 million.

But the only living things that can get this biotech wonder drug right now are laboratory mice. Amgen won't start tests with people until next year, and it will be five years at best before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves it for sale.

Between now and then Amgen faces the same expensive, risky, Byzantine road that any experimental drug must travel from lab to marketplace. In biotechnology, the odds are 1 in 10 that a drug tested on people will win FDA approval, and the cost to create a drug can top $200 million.

Underscoring that point is the fact that only a week before Amgen released its fat drug results in July, the company quietly announced some disappointing test results on a hepatitis drug it has struggled with for a decade.

Amgen's hepatitis drug might be a dud, but "the price of innovation is failure," said Cynthia Robbins-Roth, editor of Bioventure View, an industry newsletter. "In science there is no way to know where success will come from. You have to allow enough room for serendipity."

Granted, Amgen is the world's most successful biotech company and is expected to turn a $525 million profit this year on $2 billion in sales thanks to only two wonder drugs. But for years Amgen has struggled to come up with a third.

"Breakthrough drugs for diseases for which there are no cures today" is our goal, said George Morstyn, Amgen vice president for clinical development. Because molecular cell biology is on the scientific frontier, much remains unknown. …

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