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Antitrust regulators cleared the way on Friday for Amgen Inc.’s purchase of Immunex Corp., the biggest biotechnology merger ever. The Federal Trade Commission proposed an order that would allay antitrust concerns by making Immunex sell its cancer-fighting drug Leukine to Schering AG. The order would also require the companies to license the development of arthritis medications to others. Amgen and Immunex compete in the billion-dollar market for drugs that regenerate white blood cells. Joseph Simons, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, said the order would restore competition lost in the market as a result of the deal and would encourage future competition by making it hard for the company to block the sale of new biopharmaceuticals. Barbara Bronson Gray, an Amgen spokeswoman, said the Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based company expects the merger to close soon. Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology company, announced in December that it planned to buy Immunex, a Seattle company specializing in the immune system, for $16 billion in cash and stock. The transaction is worth less now because shares of Amgen have dropped about 40 percent and Immunex by about 30 percent. Shareholders of both companies approved the merger on May 16. In April, Immunex settled three lawsuits challenging the merger and accusing the company’s board of not getting the best price for shareholders. The plaintiffs agreed to settle for the cost of their attorney fees and court expenses, the company said. Immunex has already agreed to sell Leukine to Schering for $380 million, a transaction that will close shortly after Amgen completes its acquisition. Gray said. Leukine is similar to Amgen’s Neupogen. Once the deal closes, Amgen — which also makes the widely used anemia drug Epogen — will own Enbrel, a top-selling drug that treats rheumatoid arthritis. There is a 30-day public comment period before the commission can make the order final. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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