By Randall Osborne

NEW YORK -- Gordon Binder, chairman and CEO of Amgen Inc., didn't want to talk specifically about recent rumors of a takeover by DuPont & Co., but he had plenty to say about the general idea of selling out.

"We can stay independent forever," Binder said, adding that the company has about $1 billion in cash. "We have plenty of money, with critical mass in research, development, manufacturing -- whatever you can name. There's nothing anybody would have to offer us."

Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen's stock jumped last month on speculation that DuPont, of Wilmington, Del., would purchase the company for $25 billion in cash. The rumor surfaced about a week after DuPont bought out Merck & Co.'s interest in their joint venture, DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Co., for $2.6 billion. Some believed Amgen would be gobbled next.

Neither Amgen nor DuPont would comment on the story. (See BioWorld Today, May 26, 1998, p. 1.)

"The accounting rules don't favor pharmaceutical companies acquiring somebody like Amgen," Binder told BioWorld Today at the 12th Annual Biotechnology Industry Organization Conference. "They are much more friendly to pharmaceutical companies acquiring each other. That's what they've been doing, and that's what they will continue to do, and that's fine with us."

In the first quarter of this year, Amgen's earnings rose 9 percent over last year's first quarter, surpassing the expectations of analysts -- who, Binder said, have tended to underestimate the company.

"I wouldn't say it's sour grapes, but I don't think everybody fully appreciated how extensive the clinical trial program was, after approval of [Neupogen]," he said. "We've done far more patients after approval than we did before approval."

Neupogen (recombinant granulocyte colony stimulating factor) boosts production of neutrophils. Approved in 1991 as a means of restoring white blood cells after chemotherapy in non-myeloid cancers, Neupogen was approved for its fifth indication by the FDA earlier this year. (See BioWorld Today, April 8, 1998, p. 1.)

Amgen spokesman David Kaye said about 200 studies in Neupogen are ongoing. "It's pretty much used in every chemo[therapy] regimen there is," Kaye said.

Sales of Epogen, Amgen's anemia-fighting drug approved in June 1989, rose 4 percent the first quarter of this year over the same period last year. Infergen, the company's consensus interferon product for hepatitis C, was approved in October 1997. Sales of Infergen for the first quarter totaled $1 million.

Binder said Amgen's dry spell, with regard to introducing new products, is over.

"When we were in the early stages of Epogen and Neupogen, we put all of our money on those," Binder said. "That blank spot moved on through the pipeline, so we had six years without a new product. It was a good price to pay and I'm glad we paid it, but I wouldn't have delayed the launches of Epogen and Neupogen one week."

Amgen has said it plans to introduce five new products in five years. The first year, 1997, saw the introduction of Infergen.

"We still think we can do it," Binder said. "Not necessarily one every year, but four in the remaining four years."

Stemgen, a stem-cell factor for use in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, is expected to be Amgen's next product to reach the market. The biologics license application has been filed.

"It's been at the FDA for 14 months," Binder said. "They tend to decide whether or not they're going to approve in 12 months, but then there's negotiation on what goes into the package insert, which often takes three to six additional months. You'd like broader coverage, and they tend to opt for narrower, so there's a back and forth that goes on. It's in that phase."

Amgen's shares (NASDAQ:AMGN) closed Wednesday at $62.312, up $0.187.*