- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Amgen Inc. boosted its first-quarter profit by 51 percent, thanks to surging drug sales and ongoing cost cuts designed to free up cash for an unprecedented burst of new product launches.

The huge biologic drugmaker on Tuesday beat Wall Street forecasts and raised its profit forecast for this year.

The Thousand Oaks, California, company is gradually reducing positions in research and development, administration and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, it has assembled a new sales group to market its first drug in the growing cardiovascular market, just-approved chronic heart failure treatment Corlanor.

It’s also looking to build relationships with cardiologists ahead of likely approval of a much more lucrative heart drug, Repatha, which could be approved in August. Repatha is part of a new class of pricey cholesterol drugs called PCSK9 inhibitors aimed at patients not helped enough by older statin drugs such as Lipitor.

Amgen reported net income of $1.62 billion, or $2.11 per share, up from $1.07 billion, or $1.40 per share, in 2014’s first quarter.

Adjusted net income, excluding one-time costs, was $1.91 billion, or $2.48 per share. Analysts expected $2.10.

“It was a solid quarter,” said Edward Jones analyst Ashtyn Evans. She noted several major products beat sales expectations.

Revenue totaled $5.03 billion, up 11 percent from a year ago. Analysts expected $4.92 billion.

Roughly half the revenue increase came from price increases.

Sales were led by a flat $1.38 billion from Neulasta and Neupogen, for preventing infections in patients getting chemotherapy; rheumatoid arthritis drug Enbrel, up 13 percent to $1.12 billion; osteoporosis injection Prolia, up 39 percent to $272 million; and a 16 percent jump to $534 million for Epogen, for treating anemia in kidney dialysis patients.

“There’s a lot to be pleased about,” CEO Robert Bradway told analysts on a conference call, from “good momentum in our base business” to promising results of drugs still in testing.

Besides Corlanor, Amgen recently launched leukemia drug Blincyto. Amgen expects approval of multiple myeloma drug Kyprolis in July for earlier use - after patients have failed on one other drug rather than two - and plans to apply at mid-year or later for approvals of drugs for a thyroid disorder and for plaque psoriasis.

“This is a unique moment,” marketing head Tony Hooper. “We are simultaneously launching, growing (sales of) and defending the most products in our history.”

The company raised its adjusted 2015 profit forecast to a range of $9.35 to $9.65 per share, from $9.05 to $9.40 a share.

Amgen shares jumped $4.04, or 2.4 percent, to $172.50 in after-hours trading, after climbing $2.49, or 1.5 percent, to $168.46 in regular trading.

Evans expects Repatha to top $1 billion in annual sales by 2018, but said it likely will hit the market second, a disadvantage, after rival medicine alirocumab from partners Sanofi SA and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Amgen is a top maker of biologic drugs, which are produced in living cells.

It had about 20,000 employees worldwide in December 2013, cut about 2,100 in 2104, and will trim another 1,400 to 1,900 by year’s end.

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Follow Linda A. Johnson at https://twitter.com/lindaj_onpharma

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