Roche Holding AG and Amgen Inc. are set to begin duking it out in court today over the once lucrative but now troubled U.S. market for anemia drugs, the Wall Street Journal reports.


Sales of anemia drugs were booming in November 2005 when Amgen filed a lawsuit trying to keep Roche out of the market. Anemia, a deficiency of red blood cells that can cause weakness and shortness of breath, often occurs in patients undergoing chemotherapy or in those with chronic kidney disease. Amgen's drugs Epogen and Aranesp and Johnson & Johnson's Procrit treat this sort of anemia, helping patients avoid blood transfusions. The injectable drugs racked up more than $10 billion in combined sales last year in the U.S., according to IMS Health, a healthcare-information company.


But in March, the Food and Drug Administration issued strong warnings about heart and cancer risks tied to the drugs at certain doses. Sales have fallen as a result, particularly since Medicare and Medicaid decided to restrict their coverage. Though sales of Epogen were up year-over-year, U.S. sales of Aranesp in the second quarter fell 19% from a year earlier, to $578 million. The plunge prompted Amgen to announce layoffs, delay capital expansion and reduce its earnings forecast for the year. Global sales of Procrit and its European equivalent, Eprex, fell 6% in the second quarter, to $758 million, contributing to J & J;'s decision to lower its sales-growth forecast for the year.

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