Amgen could delay Seattle expansion

JUST weeks after pharmaceutical giant Amgen announced it was putting the construction of its €1.1bn site in east Cork on hold, speculation is mounting in the United States that it is also going to delay expansion of its American operations.

The pharmaceutical company has begun expanding its Seattle operation and the new facility was expected to create 750 new jobs.

However, according to the Seattle Times, the company is “taking steps” to stop the 550,000-square foot expansion which was due to be completed by 2010. The company has not confirmed the story, only saying there was no announcement at this time.

US economists say the definite postponement of the Irish operation for two years and the possible delay in Seattle is down to regulatory difficulties with two drugs, Epogen and Aranesp.

The safety of the two anti-anaemia drugs were questioned earlier this year and the company was forced to alter its label notes on the products to say they carried “increased risks of mortality, serious cardiovascular events, thromboembolic events, and tumour progression when used in off-label dose regimens”.

In April, Amgen said Aranesp sales in the first quarter fell to $1.02 billion (€740m) from $1.11bn in the fourth quarter of 2006, while sequential sales of Epogen fell to $625m from $661m.

In a further blow to the company, Blue Shield of California, a nonprofit insurer with 3.3 million members, is limiting payments for anaemia drugs from Amgen and Johnson & Johnson. Blue Shield this month began requiring that doctors wait until a patient’s anaemia is just shy of requiring a transfusion before giving them Amgen’s Aranesp and Epogen, or Johnson & Johnson’s Procrit.

Last week Amgen announced it was cutting 30 of its employees working on the construction of the new Carrigtwohill plant.

The bio-pharmaceutical company remains adamant it will fulfil its 1.1bn promise to set up in east Cork — albeit with a two-year delay.

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