The world’s leading biotechnology group, Amgen, saw its earnings for the third quarter more than quadruple, but shares in the group slipped in after-hours trading as investors concentrated on sales largely coming in under par.

The company recorded a net profit of $967 million dollars, or $0.77 a share, versus $236 million, or $0.18 per share, for the like, year-earlier quarter, which was hit by exceptional charges of $554 million relating to its acquisition of Tularik for $1.3 billion [[30/03/04b]]. Excluding special items, Amgen earned $0.85 a share, beating Wall Street analysts' expectations by $0.30 per share.

Earnings were also boosted by a robust growth in sales, which grew 19% to $3.05 billion, though many products failed to hit their targets for the period.

The group’s anaemia drug Aranesp (darbepoetin alfa) turned in an enviable performance, leaping 38% to $840 million, but this was marred by the fact that it significantly undershot analysts’ expectations of around $860 million, giving rise to concern that its particularly impressive sales in the second quarter [[20/07/05d]] were just a one off and not an indication of future growth.

Combined revenues from the white blood cell boosters Neulasta (pegfilgrastim) and Neupogen (filgrastim) climbed 17% to $882 million. But sales practices surrounding the products are currently under the microscope, as Amgen's close rival Johnson & Johnson has filed a suit accusing the firm of antitrust violations regarding the drugs and Aranesp [[14/10/05d]]. The US healthcare heavyweight claims that Amgen has captured 66% of the chemotherapy market because it forces cancer clinics wanting price breaks on Neulasta and Neupogen to buy Aranesp, though Amgen has strongly denied any wrongdoing. Whether this will affect any of the product’s performances over the coming quarters remains to be seen.

Sales of the arthritis/psoriasis agent Enbrel (etanercept) also did well, turning in growth of 35% to $668 million, beating its target of $665 million. But a large chunk of other key drug products fell short Wall Street’s predictions, including Aranesp’s predecessor Epogen (epoetin alfa), which dropped 12% to $599 million.

The firm has reiterated its full-year prediction for revenue growth in the mid-to high-teens and earnings of $3.10 to $3.20 per share, but its stock still slipped 6% to $73.60 in after-hours trading, following a close of $78.09 on the Nasdaq.