Biogen Idec To Show Off MS Drugs at Seattle Neurology Meeting

4/24/09Follow @xconomy

Biogen Idec is the world’s largest maker of multiple sclerosis drugs, and to keep it that way, the company needs to stay on the good side of neurologists. So when a large number of these docs get together for a scientific meeting, it’s time to start wooing.

This is at the top of Biogen’s agenda for the week ahead, as the American Academy of Neurology, the nation’s biggest group of doctors who treat multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, is holding its annual meeting April 26 through May 1 in Seattle.

So before the wining and dining begins, I lined up an interview with Al Sandrock, Biogen’s senior vice president of neurology R&D, to talk about the key points the company will try to make to doctors. The company heads into this meeting with weakening demand, as natalizumab (Tysabri) produced $227 million in first-quarter sales, quite a bit short of Wall Street’s expectations of $246 million.

Biogen plans to keep natalizumab on center stage at the meeting. After all, it’s regarded by many as the most effective MS drug on the market, although it also carries the risk of subjecting patients to PML, a potentially fatal brain infection. On the other hand, Biogen also has plenty to say about another drug, an experimental version of its best-selling MS drug, interferon-beta (Avonex), that’s supposed to require fewer shots, and reduce flu-like side effects. The company also is preparing the first clinical trial of a drug designed to regenerate the myelin coating around nerves, which gets damaged by MS.

“Physicians and patients will be thrilled to see how large the MS pipeline is and how far we’ve come in the past 10 years,” Sandrock says.

Biogen’s head of drug safety, Carmen Bozic, is expected to give an overview of the risk/benefit balance for natalizumab. The drug’s prescribing information has stated that patients run a 1 in 1,000 risk of getting PML, ever since the drug was re-introduced to the market in July 2006. But Bozic’s presentation will point out that after almost three years on the market, there are now more than 40,000 patients taking the product, and there have been six confirmed cases of PML, Sandrock says. Five of the six patients diagnosed with PML since the drug returned to the market are still alive, said spokeswoman Shannon Altimari.

“When the drug was approved, it was said the risk of PML was 1 in 1,000, and it was fatal,” Sandrock says. “Now we can see the risk is likely less than 1 in 1,000, and PML is a more manageable than we thought. We think physicians will draw some comfort from that.”

The company will also show data from a Phase I trial of its pegylated interferon-beta1a. This is the drug that Biogen is counting on will extend the life … Next Page »

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