US healthcare major Johnson & Johnson is taking biotechnology giant Amgen to court over claims that the latter is using illegal selling tactics which force oncologists to choose its anemia drug Aranesp (darbepoetin alfa) over J&J’s offering Procrit (epoetin alfa).

Global sales of Procrit have been falling steadily due to strong competition from Aranesp; for the first half of 2005, turnover dropped 11% to $1.16 billion [[20/07/05b]] while sales of Aranesp rocketed 36% to $1.56 billion [[20/07/05d]].

According to J&J unit Ortho Biotech Products, Amgen penalizes cancer clinics by insisting that they purchase almost all anemia products from the firm if they want to buy its white blood cell-boosting agents Neulasta (pegfilgrastim) and Neupogen (filgrastim) at a reasonable price, reports Reuters.

If clinics do not agree to buying 75% of anemia therapies from Amgen, they will be forced to purchase Neulasta and Neupogen at prices well over government reimbursement levels, as Amgen has a near-monopoly for white-blood cell treatments with 98% of clinic sales, the lawsuit cites.

"Our position is that Amgen's contracts may restrict oncologists' freedom to choose treatments best suited to the needs of individual cancer patients," Ortho Biotech spokesman Mark Wolfe said. According to the firm, such selling practices results in “less competition, less physician and patient choice and an increased expense to the public health system.”

In response to the allegations, Amgen spokeswoman Mary Klem said: "Amgen definitely believes the allegations in the lawsuit are without merit, and we intend to vigorously defend our position."