By Frances Bishopp

American Oncology Resources Inc. and Immunex Corp. will collaborate on a new program designed to improve the cost effectiveness of cancer treatments delivered to patients by American Oncology's network of 237 oncologists in 15 states.

The Disease Management Partner Program will begin immediately. Under the agreement, Immunex will supply five cancer-related therapeutics including branded drugs Leukine (sargramostim), and Novantrone (mitoxantrone for injection concentrate) and specific multi-source generic products.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

American Oncology Resources (AOR), of Houston, treats one out of 20 cancer patients in the U.S., approximately 60,000 new cancer patients every year, Robin Shapiro, manager of corporate communications at Immunex, told BioWorld Today.

"What Immunex gets out of the agreement is access on AOR's formulary, enhanced utilization of our drugs, access to AOR's research network and access to information," Shapiro said.

"We have seven marketed products," Shapiro said, "five of which the AOR physicians will use as they see fit in their treatment of cancer. Separate from that, because they have such a broad ranging network of doctors, there is the opportunity to partner with them to do clinical studies."

"Although we can't predict what impact the agreement will have on our market share," Shapiro said, "we expect increased utilization of our drugs. We will become their preferred drug of choice, however, the agreement is non-exclusive and doesn't limit in any way the doctors' access to specific therapies in terms of patient treatment."

David Paget, director of budget and planning at AOR, said one objective of the new program is to pass on the cost-effectiveness of the cancer treatments to patients.

The program with Immunex, Paget said, is the first in the disease management program, and hopefully the beginning of other such agreements.

AOR physicians will be involved in various clinical studies of both new and existing Immunex products. AOR has initiated a multi-state study of Novantrone in advanced prostate cancer patients. The trial is expected to be completed in 1998.

Novantrone was first licensed in 1987 for treatment of acute myelogenous leukemia. In November 1996, the FDA approved expanded use of the drug for advanced hormone refractory prostate cancer.

Immunex, of Seattle, acquired Novantrone from American Cyanamid Co., of Wayne, N.J., which purchased a majority interest in Immunex in 1993. American Home Products Corp., of Madison, N.J., which owns a majority interest in Immunex, bought Cyanamid in 1994.

Leukine, a granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor, is approved in the setting of bone marrow transplantation, acute myelogenous leukemia and peripheral blood progenitor cell mobilization and post-transplantation support. Leukine currently is being tested in patients, such as premature infants and AIDS patients, with high risk of life-threatening infections.

AOR is interested in Immunex's products in development, Shapiro said. One such product, FLT-ligand, a molecule that stimulates development and production of very early immune system cells, stem cells, is in Phase I studies.

Analyst Jay Silverman, of Robertson Stephens & Co., of New York, said the new partnership is a sign that Immunex has a real oncology franchise and that OAR is interested in the company's existing and pipeline products as well.

"The company seems to have some nice momentum now in their existing business and this is a nice focused marketing effort to help with the marketing pressures in the marketplace today, " Silverman said. "This is what is happening today," he added. "Physician groups are joining together to get the best prices."

Immunex's stock (NASDAQ: IMNX) closed Tuesday at $30.50, down $1.875. *