Congress scrutinizes drug ads

Amgen, J&J are asked for anemia medicine records

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Bloomberg News / April 1, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO - Amgen Inc. and Johnson & Johnson have been asked to hand over company documents to US lawmakers related to promotion of anemia drugs linked to increased risk of death at high doses.

The documents, including records on direct-to-consumer television and print advertising, are sought by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, led by chairman John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, according to letters posted on the committee's website yesterday.

The committee asked J&J to provide information on its ad campaigns for its anemia drug Procrit.

While Amgen hasn't run consumer advertisements for its products, marketed as Epogen and Aranesp, the committee is questioning whether the company offered discounts to doctors on two different treatments, Neupogen and Neulasta, in return for prescribing Aranesp.

"We are concerned that such 'bundling' practices may have helped fuel excessive and dangerous off-label use of Aranesp," Dingell said in the letter, addressed yesterday to Amgen chief executive Kevin Sharer.

Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., rose 33 cents to $41.78 in Nasdaq Composite trading.

J&J, of New Brunswick, N.J., rose 69 cents, or 1 percent, to $64.87 in New York Stock Exchange Composite trading.

Amgen generates 41 percent of its sales from the anemia medicines, and another 29 percent from Neupogen and Neulasta.

The committee is asking Amgen for copies of its TV and print advertisements for Neupogen and Neulasta.

The drugs are used to stimulate production of infection-fighting white blood cells for patients who are weakened after taking cancer chemotherapy.

Dingell's panel also is looking for copies of contracts in which Amgen offered discounts for Neupogen and Neulasta in exchange for prescribing Aranesp, a longlasting anemia drug.

Aranesp stimulates production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells for patients on cancer chemotherapy.

The committee asked how many physicians or oncology practices signed bundled contracts, how much money the company spent on that practice, and how much it has spent on direct-to-consumer advertising of Neupogen and Neulasta.

J&J is being asked to turn over records on its direct-to-consumer TV and print ads for Procrit.

The committee asked how much money it spent on the ads starting in 2001, and why it chose to stop running them in 2005.

"We have received the letter from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and will continue to cooperate fully with the committee's requests," said Kassy McGourty, a spokeswoman for Ortho Biotech, the unit of J&J that markets Procrit, in an e-mailed statement.

Amgen didn't immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Procrit TV commercials in 2001 told consumers the drug could boost their energy and provide "strength for living."

The camera showed an elderly woman, who at first was too tired to sew her daughter's wedding dress, dancing at the wedding thanks to Procrit, according to an article in the FDA's consumer magazine.

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