Centocor helps J&J climb the biotech ranks

Quiz time: Name the world’s biggest biotechnology companies.

Answer: Amgen, Genentech … and everyone else.

Would you believe me if I told you that Johnson & Johnson was No. 3?

Market researcher IMS Health this week released data that shows the New Brunswick, N.J. company is the world’s third-largest seller of biotech drugs.

Now at $15.96 billion and $15.47 billion, Amgen and Genentech (owned by Roche), just dominate the $75 billion industry. Johnson & Johnson is a distant No. 3 with $6.29 billion in 2007 biotech sales.

A big reason for its strong showing is Horsham's Centocor Inc., which Johnson & Johnson acquired for $4.9 billion in 1999.

Centocor’s Remicade is now the third-biggest-selling biotech drug with global sales of $4.2 billion. That trails only the $5.3 billion in sales of Enbrel (developed by Amgen with partners Wyeth and Takeda) and the $4.4 billion in sales of Aranesp (also Amgen). Remicade is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and other diseases.

Johnson & Johnson’s other big biotech drug, Procrit, is a treatment for anemia. But Procrit sales are likely to fall after federal health experts recommended in March that use of Procrit, Aranesp and Epogen be restricted to chemotherapy patients with incurable forms of cancer.

Procrit is made by Johnson & Johnson’s Ortho Biotech unit in Bridgewater, N.J. At the end of April, the company said it would combine Ortho Biotech and Centocor in part because the weak market for anemia drugs.

More people could be added to the 1,900 or so who work for Centocor in five Philadelphia-area locations. But about 550 Ortho employees will lose their jobs.

Of course, if Procrit sales slip too far, Johnson & Johnson may not be No. 3 in biotech sales for 2008.

But Centocor continues to develop new monoclonal antibody treatments, including one for psoriasis that an FDA advisory panel just recommended for approval Tuesday. One analyst estimated sales of that drug might reach $500 million by 2011.

That $4.9 billion Johnson & Johnson paid for Centocor looks like money well-spent.