Shares in Amgen have edged up after the US biotechnology firm said that despite enduring a tough year, its earnings for 2007 will come in above its most recent previous forecast.

Speaking at the JPMorgan investor conference in San Francisco, chief executive Kevin Sharer said that despite regulatory and reimbursement changes that have negatively affected sales of its anaemia drugs Epogen (epoetin alfa) and Aranesp (darbepoetin alfa), things are looking up. Amgen now expects 2007 adjusted earnings per share to be above its previously-lowered (in October) guidance range of $4.13-$4.23, and closer to the low end of its EPS guidance issued in January last year of $4.30-$4.50, excluding expenses.

Mr Sharer stated that revenues from Epogen and Aranesp, which are erythropoiesis stimulating agents, are currently stable but he acknowledged that the dialogue with the US Food and Drug Administration over the safety of its drugs when used by cancer patients “is not over”. The agency’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee meets in March as part of its ongoing review of the entire class of ESAs.

There is still a danger that the FDA will impose further restrictions on the anaemia drugs’ labels, a major worry given that Aranesp and Epogen make up almost half of Amgen’s sales. Nevertheless, analysts at the conference were pleased to hear Mr Sharer say that the company’s cost cutting measures are bearing fruit.

Amgen announced a restructuring programme in August in response to its ESA problems which will see up to 2,600 jobs being lost in order to save $1-$1.3 billion in costs in 2008. Mr Sharer said that the firm would make more cuts if needed, but noted that it is looking to reduce its reliance on sales in North America and indeed on anaemia drugs.

He reported that Amgen advanced 13 new molecules into development in 2007, and that 10 molecules are planned to move into mid-stage trials in 2008. Chief among these is the antibody denosumab which has potential as a treatment for post-menopausal osteoporosis. Results from a trial comparing denosumab to Merck and Co’s Fosamax (alendronate) are due in the first half of 2008, and the pressure is on to show superiority over the latter treatment which will soon be hit by generic competition in the USA.