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Earnings Preview: Amgen reports 1Q results Tuesday

Linda a. Johnson, AP Business Writer

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Biotech drugmaker Amgen Inc. will focus on recent results on a key experimental melanoma drug, testing of other drugs and revenue from its top-selling drugs when it reports first-quarter results after the stock market closes Tuesday.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The world's biggest biotech company will discuss promising preliminary results in a late-stage study of its experimental drug for the deadly skin cancer melanoma, TVEC, and update progress on other drugs currently in patient testing.

Amgen executives are expected to lay out plans to release detailed results on TVEC, short for the unpronounceable talimogene laherparepvec. That might happen at a huge conference of cancer specialists in Chicago that starts May 31.

The company, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., will note it has eight late-stage drug testing programs that are expected to wrap up over the next few years. Those medicines include a few for different cancer types, one for psoriasis and one for high levels of blood fats called lipids, a common disorder.

The maker of Neulasta and Neupogen for fighting infection in cancer patients will review sales trends for those and other key products. They'll likely discuss prospects of a boost for its blockbuster anemia drugs, Aranesp and Epogen, due to big problems for a rival product. In late February, Affymax Inc. and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. pulled their anemia drug Omontys off the market after about five patients taking it died and another 50 or so had severe allergic reactions.

Omontys, Aranesp and Epogen compete fiercely for patients who develop anemia while undergoing dialysis for chronic kidney disease. Those pricey drugs, injected once a week or once a month, boost the blood's production of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body. That reduces the need for blood transfusions.

Amgen, which also makes Prolia for osteoporosis, has been having its own problems with a couple of drugs in development, and analysts are likely to ask about them.

In late February, Amgen halted experimental testing of its overactive parathyroid drug, Sensipar, for possible use in children after one child died. The company is investigating exactly what happened.

A couple of weeks before that setback, Amgen and partner UCB SA scrapped plans for late-stage testing of an experimental drug called romosozumab for speeding up healing of bone fractures. Amgen hasn't disclosed any details on the decision, but some analysts have speculated that the drug doesn't work very well. Meanwhile, Amgen is still testing it for the much larger market of women with postmenopausal osteoporosis.

Company management likely will discuss its strategy for expanding sales in China and Japan and update its plans to make "biosimilar" versions of biologic drugs — medicines produced in living cells — along with its original biologic drugs.

WHY IT MATTERS: Amgen has a promising pipeline of experimental drugs, but it will be a few years until — or if — they hit the market.

Meanwhile, shares of Amgen and other biotech drugmakers have been enjoying a run-up. That means they're no longer cheap based on cash flow, compared to shares of traditional pharmaceutical companies, according to analysts at Cowen and Co.

Analysts are expecting a good quarter from Amgen, and some have recently hiked 12-month price targets for its shares by 20 percent or more. They cite solid demand for most of its top drugs and price increases of 3 percent to 7 percent for many of them since January.

Analysts will want to see whether Amgen increases its profit forecast for the year, which currently stands at $7.05 to $7.35 per share.

But they'll be watching to see whether Pfizer Inc.'s new rheumatoid arthritis pill, Xeljanz, cuts into sales of Enbrel, an injection for the crippling immune disorder. Pfizer and Amgen market Enbrel jointly around the world, and it's Amgen's No. 2 revenue generator at around $4 billion a year.

WHAT'S EXPECTED: Analysts polled by FactSet, on average, expect earnings per share of $1.84, excluding one-time items, on sales of $4.37 billion.

LAST YEAR'S QUARTER: Amgen reported profit of $1.18 billion, or $1.48 per share, and revenue of $4.05 billion.