By Randall Osborne

West Coast Editor

With positive data for yet another indication for Enbrel (etanercept) in hand, Immunex Corp. said it is establishing a dedicated sales force for the product to supplement the team already in place with Wyeth-Ayerst.

¿We¿re not saying specifically how big it will be, but it¿s less than 100 people,¿ said Robin Shapiro, director of public affairs for Seattle-based Immunex. She told BioWorld Today that Wyeth-Ayerst, a division of Madison, N.J.-based American Home Products Corp., has a sales force dedicated to Enbrel, but she could not comment on its size.

Barry Labinger, vice president of marketing for Enbrel, has been promoted to senior vice president and general manager to oversee sales, marketing and development of Enbrel and specialty therapeutics Novantrone and Leukine.

Novantrone is a chemotherapeutic agent, and also is approved for secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. Leukine is a yeast-produced granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor for patients with myelogenous leukemia and for supporting peripheral blood progenitor cell mobilization.

But Enbrel is the company¿s flagship product. It was first approved in November 1998 to treat moderately to severely active rheumatoid arthritis in patients who have an inadequate response to one or more disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs. (See BioWorld Today, Nov. 3, 1998.)

¿It was the fastest-selling biotechnology product ever launched, after two years on the market, and the fifth largest pharmaceutical ever launched,¿ Shapiro said.

Enbrel also gained an approval in May 1999 to treat children and teen-agers with moderately to severely active polyarticular-course juvenile RA. Enbrel gained further expanded approval for treatment of early stage RA last year. (See BioWorld Today, June 8, 2000, and June 1, 1999.)

Last month, Immunex released positive preliminary data from its first clinical study of Enbrel in psoriasis patients, with more complete results due in March. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 22, 2001.)

¿We saw demand skyrocketing, and we wanted to make sure no patients would have to interrupt therapy,¿ Shapiro said, adding that concern about manufacturing problems is a thing of the past.

The contract manufacturer for Enbrel is Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, of Ingelheim, Germany, and American Home Products ¿bought a plant in 1999 that was being retrofitted, and will be owned by Immunex after commercial supply is available, sometime next year,¿ Shapiro said. Another plant is located in Ireland, and another, to be completed before 2005, is being built in Rhode Island, she added.

Immunex named Scott Burton the new vice president of sales for Enbrel. He will hire and manage the new sales team. The company¿s stock (NASDAQ:IMNX) closed Monday at $18.01, up 18 cents.