Fat-shedding find boosts biotech firm

FOR anyone who owned shares in California's Amgen, the world's largest biotechnology company, last week was a good one: between Tuesday night and Friday morning the price rose by 10 per cent, to $84.25, as almost four million shares changed hands.

The rise was triggered when news leaked of Friday's edition of the journal Science. The journal described how mice born with a genetic defect that made them obese shed body fat when injected daily with a protein called leptin.

The hope that the same treatment might work for humans, if a drug could be developed, sent the shares of Amgen, which - along with Hoffman La Roche - has a licence to exploit this finding, rocketing.

"It's quite irrational," said Teena Lerner, biotechnology analyst at Lehman Brothers in New York. "But when there's so much media attention, combined with peoples' hopes and dreams about weight loss, I guess they express that by buying the stock."

The obesity "treatment" will take years to come to the market - if it ever does. There are even doubts about whether humans have the same problem, and in how many it is truly a genetic problem.

But obesity is big business, especially in the US. "Non-fat fats" - chemicals that taste like fat but are not absorbed - are a $100m (pounds 62.5m) market alone. And the overall spending on diets and diet products in the US is $40bn.

However, developing diet products is difficult. Olestra, developed by Procter & Gamble, is a fat that is not absorbed by the intestine. The corporation has spent more than seven years waiting for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the drug for public consumption.

Orlistat, an anti-obesity drug being developed by the Hoffman La Roche, is also stuck in the approvals process.

Salatrim, developed by RJR Nabisco, is a low-fat fat that has been approved and sold well; but a half-fat fat is only partway to the industry's Holy Grail.

Sucralose is a British invention, 600 times sweeter than natural sugar. It was discovered in 1970 at Tate & Lyle, the sugar giant.

So far the company has spent pounds 40m on development and has some approvals - but not in the US and Europe.

But at least Amgen is far from being a one-drug company. Jo Walton, the sector analyst at Lehman's London office, calculates that in five years it will have taken over the coveted title of having the world's biggest- selling drug from Glaxo's Zantac, with Epogen, a prescription drug that stimulates the body's production of red blood cells.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk