US biotechnology company Amgen pleased investors yesterday after reporting a strong set of financials for the first quarter of 2005 and raising its estimates for the full year. Net income was boosted 23% to $924 million as its arthritis, anaemia and infection in chemotherapy agents drove product sales up 24% to $2.7 billion.

The news was a particular boost as Amgen had expected uncertainties over Medicare reimbursement changes to negatively impact results. But instead chairman and chief executive Kevin Sharer said: “Given this performance, we are comfortable increasing our revenue and adjusted earnings guidance for the full year.” Total revenue growth is now expected to come in around the low double digits to mid-teens from a previous range of high single digits to low teens. Adjusted earnings per share are forecast at $2.80-$2.90 for the full year, up from previous estimates of $2.70-$2.85.

Specifically, worldwide sales of the anaemia treatment Aranesp (darbepoetin alfa) increased 33% to $723 million in the first quarter of 2005, while revenues for its predecessor Epogen (epoetin alfa) dropped slightly to $583 million compared to $590 million for the first three months of last year. Combined sales of Amgen’s products for chemotherapy-related infections, Neupogen (filgrastim) and Neulasta (pegfilgrastim), were boosted 20% to $795 million but the largest growth was seen from its top-selling arthritis drug Enbrel (etanercept), which saw almost a 50% jump to $592 million.

And Amgen has no plans to rest on its laurels, with late-stage studies planned for AMG 531 – a novel treatment for autoimmune bleeding disorder – and two new compounds added to its burgeoning pipeline. AMG 102 is a fully-human monoclonal antibody which will be tested in various cancer types, while AMG 317 is designed to block the action of two cytokines implicated in asthma.