Genzyme Oral Pill for Gaucher’s Succeeds in Trial, Aims to Extend Key Revenue Stream

2/20/09

Genzyme (NASDAQ:GENZ) said this afternoon that its next-generation, oral drug for Gaucher disease passed a mid-stage clinical trial, providing a degree of assurance that the Cambridge, MA-based biotech powerhouse can sustain its franchise for treating the rare genetic disease.

The study, which included 26 patients, showed the oral drug was safe and effective. And the trial showed that the drug met its main goal in 91 percent of patients who took the drug over a year’s time. The results were presented today at the Lysosomal Disease Network World meeting in San Diego.

The trial represents an important test for the drug, although it will still have to clear another late-stage clinical trial expected to begin in mid-2009 before it can win FDA approval for sale in the U.S. This drug is strategically important to Genzyme. Imiglucerase (Cerezyme), the company’s current treatment for Gaucher, is its top-selling product that raked in $1.24 billion in 2008 sales, or more than a quarter of the firm’s total revenue of $4.6 billion. But two critical patents for the treatment expire in August 2010 and August 2013, according to regulatory filings.

“Given Cerezyme’s unique safety and efficacy profile, we set a high threshold for success, and the results were better than anticipated, indicating a potent, highly-specific and well-tolerated molecule,” said Geoff McDonough, a senior vice president with Genzyme, in a statement.

The oral Gaucher drug, tentatively called Genz-112638, would come with a longer patent life, and is also intended to be a more convenient option for people with Gaucher. About 10,000 patients worldwide have the disorder, and the current imiglucerase treatment is only available through intravenous injection.

The study of Genzymes’s oral Gaucher drug showed that the treatment decreased spleen and liver growth that is common among patients with the disease. The drug also proved effective in raising levels of hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen in the blood, and platelet cells, which help form clots, according to Genzyme. The study also showed lower levels of an antibody released in fatty tissues in patients who took the drug.

The company says that the there was a small number of patients who had mild adverse reactions to the drug early in the trial, but those adverse events did not require medical treatment. Of the 26 patients who enrolled in the trial, 22 completed the full year of treatment, and 20 chose to stick with the drug after the study ended, Genzyme says.

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