11. Amgen

amgen
Aging brands like Epogen and Enbrel continued their decline, but Aimovig, a first-in-class migraine drug, was shifting Amgen's growth curve. (Amgen)

11. Amgen
2018 revenue: $23.75 billion
2017 revenue: $22.85 billion
Headquarters: Thousand Oaks, California

After two straight years at number 12 on FiercePharma’s list of the top pharma companies by revenues, Amgen moved up one spot with 2018 revenue of $23.75 billion. Aging brands like Epogen and Enbrel continued their decline, but the company scored one big win that by the end of the year was clearly shifting the company’s growth curve: its first-in-class migraine drug, Aimovig.

The CGRP-inhibiting drug, which nabbed FDA approval last May, scored $95 million in sales in the fourth quarter of 2018—double the haul Wall Street analysts were expecting. It was a notable achievement, considering stiff competition from two fast followers onto the market, Teva’s Ajovy and Eli Lilly’s Emgality.

Competition, in fact, dogged Amgen throughout the year, not only as it angled for market share with some of its newer drugs, but also as it battled to protect the patents on its older hits. Amgen took on each challenge head-on, and investors applauded the effort, pushing the company’s stock up 11% for the year to nearly $195.

Those high expectations will no doubt increase the pressure on Amgen, especially as it works to maintain high demand for Aimovig. It won’t be easy, considering a decision in early 2019 by CVS to give the drug nonpreferred status on its formulary. Amgen did get a reprieve a few weeks after that decision, however, when UnitedHealthcare’s pharmacy benefits manager, OptumRx, did include Aimovig on its preferred list.

RELATED: Amgen hunts for deals of all sizes to combat forthcoming sales decline

Amgen has also faced a battle in the market for PCSK9 cholesterol fighters. Its drug, Repatha, beat expectations with $159 million in the fourth quarter of 2018, but that came on the heels of a massive price cut. The company shaved 60% off Repatha’s list price last October, bringing it down to $5,850 per year, not counting discounts and rebates.

Repatha is also the subject of a bruising patent battle with Regeneron and Sanofi over their rival drug, Praluent. Amgen won the last round, when a California jury decided in February to reject Regeneron and Sanofi’s claim that two patents on Repatha are invalid. The fight is far from over, though, as Praluent’s makers are working to get the jury verdict overturned.

RELATED: For sale: Amgen chops 60% off Repatha's $14,520 retail price

All of this is happening amid falling sales of older products, which Amgen worked to offset in 2018 by boosting its R&D spending by 5% for the year and 13% in the fourth quarter alone. During the fourth-quarter earnings call, CEO Bob Bradway said Amgen is looking for acquisitions to help boost its menu of new products. The company, he said, will “look across the waterfront of smaller and larger deals.”

Meanwhile, Amgen has set expectations for 2019 fairly low, citing uncertainties about competition, as well as the ongoing drug-pricing debate in Washington, which could contribute to an expected drop in global net prices this year. Amgen is projecting earnings per share of $13.10 to $14.30 on sales of $21.8 billion to $22.9 billion, falling a bit short of the average analyst expectation of revenues on the high end of that range and EPS of $14.61.

11. Amgen

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