Amgen cutting 200 jobs despite improved Epogen sales

California-based biotech Amgen ($AMGN) reported a 30% leap in fourth-quarter profits this week, with improved sales of products like Prolia. It even reported higher sales of its anemia drug Epogen, which were up 10% for the quarter to more than half a billion dollars. But that is still not enough to save more than 200 jobs from the company's Epogen production operations in Colorado, which were targeted earlier as long-term sales of its anemia franchise have tapered off.

On Thursday, the company told workers at Longmont and Boulder-area facilities that about 220 jobs would be cut by the end of April when the company suspends manufacturing there. Amgen spokeswoman Ashleigh Koss told FiercePharma today in an email that the company intends to hold on to some of the production capacity at the facility, "and may resume manufacturing in the future based on pipeline and inventory requirements."

The reduction affects about a third of the 650 full-time workers at the facilities, Koss said. The company told the Longmont Times-Call that another 430 people work in process development, quality, information systems, and corporate support functions doing work for its U.S. facilities and in some cases for operations abroad.

Workers there have had this prospect hanging over their heads since August of 2012, when Amgen said it would ramp up production of Epogen for a year or more and then put a halt to manufacturing there. Sales have been declining for some time after Medicare changed the way it paid for the drugs used by kidney dialysis patients and after they were tied to risks of heart attacks and blood clots. Epogen sales, which hit $2.6 billion in 2009, were $1.953 billion last year, up 1%, Amgen reported on Wednesday. Sales of sister drug Aranesp were off 6% globally to $1.911 billion.

Amgen caught a break last year when Omontys, the first serious competition to its anemia drug franchise, had to be yanked from the market by developer Affymax ($AFFY) and partner Takeda. The recall came after nearly 20 patients had severe allergic reactions and three of them died. But with new drugs coming to the market and biosimilars expected to reach the U.S. next year, the handwriting has been on the wall for Epogen, and for Amgen workers in Colorado.

- read the Longmont Times-Call story
- here's the 2013 earnings release