JUPITER, FL (Nov. 15, 1999) -- Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN) announced positive indications from a late-stage clinical trial of a drug that it calls Kineret (also known as IL-1ra), which is hoped to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

When taken with methotrexate, which has long served to treat this ailment, Kineret showed a meaningful ability to reduce inflammation and to slow bone and cartilage destruction in 42% of patients, while only 23% of the patients receiving methotrexate alone saw improvement. Given the positive findings, Amgen is aiming to file a marketing application for Kineret with the Food and Drug Administration in the next handful of months.

The market size in treating this chronic disease is four times larger than the population of Washington, DC. It is estimated that over 2.5 million Americans (hang on -- I need to stretch my hands) suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. This progressive inflammatory disease attacks the immune system and a body's healthy tissue, beginning with the hands, joints, wrists and feet, before moving to all the joints. It isn't certain whether excessive work with the hands helps instigate the disease or worsen it, but to be safe, I will not rewrite, nor even summarize, the far flung studies on the topic.

Amgen will be far from a first mover with this treatment if Kineret wins FDA approval. Two treatments are already on the market, one from Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) in the form of its strong-selling Remicade drug, and one from Immunex (Nasdaq: IMNX), which sells Enbrel. Amgen's drug is still likely to find a niche in this disjointed market, however, mainly among the patients who don't respond to the two existing drugs on the market. For many, the two existing drugs don't work, but Amgen's may. However, if a patient responds favorably to all three drugs, or to even just two, Amgen's drug is not likely to be the drug of choice for them.


In its current form, Kineret must be injected daily. This means that you either have a nurse visit you daily, or you bite the bullet, buck up, and give yourself a daily shot in the leg, stomach fat, or arm. Immunex's Enbrel, in contrast, is injected only twice a week, while J&J's Remicade is given in an intravenous drip once every eight weeks. I don't know about you, but I would take Johnson & Johnson's Remicade treatment, and not just because Drip Port owns the stock.

We should keep in mind that, as Amgen has done with Neupogen and Epogen, the company will likely improve the dosage scenario for Kineret, decreasing the needed dosage frequency. This would likely be achieved, if at all, at least one year or two years from the drug's initial launch, though -- at best. In the meantime, we'll keep an eye on Amgen's pipeline and its hefty $800 million in annual research and development expenditures. Many more great, human-helping products are likely to roll from Amgen's labs, and that helps reassure us as investors (and as humans). (Talk about Amgen here.)

Next: have you begun to shop for the holidays yet? Today Excite@Home (Nasdaq: ATHM) launched a new shopping service throughout its portal in an effort to capitalize on Christ... mas. The holiday season, long ago renamed the "holiday shopping season," is around the corner and there's money to be made. Management at Excite shared that over 2,500 merchants are participating the site's new shopping service. The company's revenue-sharing commerce program means that it could generate as much as $1.50 per retail transaction generated on its site. Multiply that by potentially millions of shoppers, and it ain't chump-change.

Excite@Home's commerce service is slightly different from the services offered by a myriad of other non-retail Internet sites (Yahoo!, AOL, Lycos) that offer e-commerce. First, if a business doesn't have an online store already, it can simply build one using Excite@Home's "StoreBuilder." (This StoreBuilder service originated from Excite@Home's July acquisition of iMall, proving that management was thinking ahead. As shareholders, shout "Hooray!") Secondly, Excite has integrated retail sales functions throughout its portal site, rather than confining it to a single online shopping channel. The key is to provide sellers as many eyeballs as possible, while providing site surfers value, rather than annoying them. (Talk about Excite@Home here.)

3dfx (Nasdaq: TDFX) officially announced its new Voodoo Scalable Architecture processor, the VSA-100, and said that it would first be used on its new Voodoo4 and Voodoo5 products, both of which sound like the ultimate gift for gamers this year. David Gardner is a gamer. So is about 33% of Fool HQ, mainly (not to stereotype by any means) the techies. (Talk about 3dfx here.)

In the "down but not out category," Iomega (NYSE: IOM) announced an expansion of its recent Zip CD-RW product line with today's introduction of an external ZipCD USB (Universal Serial Bus) drive. This puppy allows you to put 650MB of data on a common CD format. Although it ships this quarter, unfortunately this new ZipCD drive won't be in stores until January, where it'll retail for about 279 clams. (Talk about Iomega here.)

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