Onyx field reps spared in Amgen's 300-job bloodletting

Amgen Pharmaceuticals is doing what companies do when they snap up a smaller rival: layoffs and a shutdown. But in this case, Amgen is doing it 19 months after the fact. The biotech giant will cut loose 300 staffers at its oncology subsidiary Onyx Pharmaceuticals and shut down Onyx's building in San Francisco.

That's about 40% of the 750 employees at Onyx, which Amgen ($AMGN) bought for $10.4 billion in August 2013.

There is some good news, however--for sales types, at least. Amgen plans to keep its field force intact. Some 250 sales and medical staffers in the field will get to stay, CEO Robert Bradway said in a company memo.

"Based on the growth opportunities with Amgen's combined oncology portfolio, we expect that all Onyx U.S. field (sales and medical) staff will be offered roles and become part of Amgen's field organization," Bradway said in the memo, which went out to Amgen employees Monday.

Job cuts on the commercial side "will affect primarily non-sales force commercial staff," spokesman Cuyler Mayer told Xconomy. Onyx's current field force will be folded into Amgen's.

Amgen knows it will need the Onyx reps to pump up sales of Kyprolis, the multiple myeloma treatment. A big draw when Amgen bought the company, Kyprolis has so far struggled to keep up with its head-to-head rival Pomalyst. The Celgene ($CELG) drug launched in February 2013, some 7 months after Kyprolis, and boasted $680 million in 2014 sales. Kyprolis brought in $331 million for the year.

That could change, however, now that Amgen has some new data in hand. According to interim data from the ENDEAVOR trial, Kyprolis bested Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Velcade as a second-line multiple myeloma treatment, staving off cancer twice as long as the older drug.

Kyprolis is now a third-line treatment, and gaining a second-line approval would broaden its market significantly. Amgen will need feet on the ground to get that message across, if and when the drug wins expanded FDA approval. The company filed for the new use at the end of January, based on a trial testing Kyprolis alongside Celgene's own Revlimid.

Next up will be a potential first-line indication. Amgen is studying Kyprolis versus Velcade in newly diagnosed multiple myeloma patients, and with ENDEAVOR's promising interim data, analysts are looking for positive results there, too.

- read the memo from Bradway
- see FierceBiotech's take
- get the Xconomy story

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