AMGEN & EPO- just in case you forgot…

someone just commented on a post i put up on Amgen & their tangled involvement in the ToCalifornia, saying ‘you should write about that’. then i remembered that i already had. so, a re-post from May 6, 2013.


Amgen: a sponsor we need for a sport in need?

they’ve sponsored the Tour of California since its inception in 2006, and that must be a good thing, right? the sport needs sponsors and here is one willing to provide financial support for an entire race for several years, one that, briefly, looked to be on the edge of challenging the Giro d’Italia as a destination for the world’s top bike road racers.


but exactly what does Amgen do?

well, Amgen is an American-based multinational biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Thousand Oaks, California. located in the Conejo Valley, Amgen is the world’s largest independent biotech firm. Epogen and Neupogen (the company’s first products on the market) were the two most successful biopharmaceutical products at the time of their respective releases.

(gotta love Wikipedia…)

they also hold – and you’re going to think, if you aren’t actually aware of this, that I am making this up – the patent for artificial EPO in the USA.

let’s hear from Kathleen Sharp of the New York Times, who wrote a great article on Amgen and EPO:

“After patenting its artificial EPO [in the late 80s], Amgen formed a partnership with the marketing mavens at Johnson & Johnson and boomed into the world’s largest biotech company.

psssst! fancy a drug that'll make you go fast then make your blood really thick and potentially kill ya? well today is your lucky freakin' day!

“Before long, Amgen and Johnson & Johnson were selling two EPO brands — Epogen and Procrit. (Those who biked the short races called criteriums joked it was for “pro-crit riders.”) By the ’90s, in addition to cyclists, runners, skiers and other endurance athletes were injecting the stuff regularly — and illegally. All they had to do was pay a black-market dealer in Amsterdam or Marseille, France.

“But it wasn’t until 1994 that the marketing of these drugs burst into the mainstream. Amgen and Johnson & Johnson began trying to expand the uses of their energy-boosting drugs to include treatment for fatigue, depression and quality-of-life issues. Commercials depicted old, slow-moving people who, after a shot of Procrit, displayed a zest for life, and a young cancer patient, who after an EPO injection happily returned to work.

“The aggressive marketing worked. Soon, exhausted but otherwise healthy people were begging doctors for a shot of what one Amgen executive called “red juice.”

“And many doctors went along with these off-label promotions, even though regulators hadn’t approved them. Indeed, in March 2007, Congressional hearings revealed that many oncologists were profiting. The drug makers paid doctors to prescribe the blood booster in high doses to unwitting patients. Some earned honorariums for speaking to their peers about the unapproved, off-label uses; others pocketed “education grants,” or joined marketing studies that never quite addressed the safety of high doses even as they recommended them.”

yup, that is right. the drug of choice of Vande Velde, Leipheimer, Hincapie, Hamilton, Vaughters and the great Lance Armstrong, the drug that fueled that particularly twisted, mangled form of the American Dream that ran roughshod over the sport for nigh on 20 years and then some, is licensed by the same drug company that just happens to be the sponsor of America’s biggest and most important bike race.

brilliant, right? like, genius, on a Herculean scale. I mean, really, why the heck shouldn’t a drug company, which by the very definition promotes health by helping the sick get better, promote an event that is full of fit young men riding around on bikes, this being the very definition of ‘health’?

well, nothing.

in fact, it makes damn good sense.

or would, if the world we actually inhabit made any actual sense.

but it just so happens that (if you really need it spelt out), a great majority – yes, a great majority – of those guys riding about on those bikes in that race were (and some probably still are) doped up to their fluttering eyelids and bursting hearts on the very product that Amgen produces.

OK, so maybe I’m being too cynical. maybe Amgen is that hitherto unseen leopard that actually did change its spots.

let’s hear from Elliot Smith, Amgen’s scientific director, speaking back in 2008 in response to criticism of Amgen’s sponsorship of the tour.

“It’s such an alien concept – we show up to work every day and try to find these medicines to treat this disease your friends, family and neighbours might have, and you’re so consumed with that that it never occurs to you that somebody is going to go out and abuse this medicine. It’s so disturbing when that happens.”

well, sounds plausible enough. they seem shocked too, and aghast at their products being abused.

but… wait. weren’t they called out by the US government itself on counts of paying “doctors to prescribe the blood booster in high doses to unwitting patients”?

so who exactly was abusing who? but I guess that’s all in the past, right?

erm, well, no.

cos guess what! (are you ready to put on your mock shock! horror! face? yes? good).

they are still at it!

just a few short months ago, news arrived that stated that federal prosecutors had found that Amgen “had marketed its anemia drug Aranesp for unapproved uses even after the Food and Drug Administration explicitly ruled them out.”

they were “pursuing profits at the risk of patient safety,” cited the report.

‘NOOOOOO!’ the crowd shouted back, though in a mocking voice for they were by now too drunk to give a rat’s arse, to be honest, for they had heard it all before.

corporate monster rapes people for cash?

heard it already mate, a thousand times. stuck record, that one…

the report, depressingly, continued:

“In court on Tuesday, prosecutors charged that Amgen had promoted the use of Aranesp to treat anemia in cancer patients who were not undergoing chemotherapy, even though the drug’s approval was only for patients receiving chemotherapy.

“A subsequent study sponsored by Amgen showed that use of Aranesp by those nonchemotherapy cancer patients had actually increased the risk of death, and the off-label use diminished. “

Amgen pleaded guilty.

Amgen had to pay $762 million in criminal penalties.

isn’t Amgen lovely? what sweet, fun-loving people must work there. real good folk. with kids. with mothers and fathers. with friends. with teddies in their cars, puppies in their homes, dreams in their hearts and hopes in their eyes. people just like us really, when all is said and done.

luckily for them, they still have beating hearts. bless. luckily for them, they can say ‘well, i’m just doing my job.’

and they say that all the way up the line…

Gordon M. Binder, Amgen CEO 1988-2000. on your watch, amigo, on your watch...

so, Amgen.

appropriate sponsor for the Tour of California?

for any bike race?

you decide.

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

2 thoughts

  1. Crankpunk… Buddy… You left out some vitally important material. Thom Wiesel, owner of USACDF colloquially known as USAC, doper of cyclists, was a/the venture capital behind Amgen. So, Thom has friends in very high places at Amgen. that, briefly, looked to be on the edge of challenging the Giro d’Italia as a destination for the world’s top bike road racers.
    This gets back to the way Verbruggen and McQuaid (and Thom Wiesel) were running the sport. Pat was heavily promoting the ToC to replace/eliminate il Giro. This is inline with the UCI’s goal of “globalizing” the sport. All that talk has cooled off even before Pat left. Lots of great races have been pushed off the WT calendar in the name of “globalization.”

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