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Amgen Goes Chemicals

World's largest biotech firm is spending about $720 million to buy two small-molecule drugmakers

by Michael McCoy
June 11, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 24

Amgen, the world's largest biotechnology company, is acquiring two small firms that are developing chemistry-based drugs. The purchases, for a combined $720 million, highlight an ongoing blurring of the lines between protein-based and small-molecule drugmakers.

Amgen will pay $420 million to acquire Ilypsa, a four-year-old firm that is developing a treatment for excess phosphorus in patients with chronic kidney disease. The compound, called ILY101, is a medicinally promising polymer that selectively binds phosphate ions in the gastrointestinal tract. It has completed Phase II clinical trials and is expected to enter Phase III trials by the end of the year.

George J. Morrow, head of Amgen's global commercial operations, calls ILY101 a strategic fit with Amgen's existing nephrology portfolio. Two of the firm's biopharmaceuticals, Aranesp and Epogen, treat anemia in kidney patients.

As chronicled in a recent C&EN profile (C&EN, April 2, page 18), California-based Ilypsa started as a small R&D effort at the materials research firm Symyx Technologies. Both Symyx and Ilypsa emerged from developments in the lab of Peter G. Schultz when he was a chemistry professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Symyx launched Ilypsa on its own in May 2003 with the help of $10 million from venture capital backers.

Separately, Amgen will pay $300 million to acquire Alantos Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company developing a dipeptidyl peptidase IV inhibitor for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. The drug, a small molecule code-named ALS 2-0426, is in Phase IIa clinical trials.

Alantos was formed in 1999 and is descended from combinatorial chemistry work pioneered in the laboratory of Jean-Marie Lehn, winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.


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