Multiple Sclerosis Pill Meets Goals of First Late-Stage Study

Biogen Idec Inc.'s oral drug for multiple sclerosis showed success in the first of two large clinical trials, moving the company closer to gaining a foothold in an important new market, Dow Jones Newswires reported Monday.

Biogen derived most of its $4.7 billion in 2010 revenue from sales of MS drugs Avonex and Tysabri, but has not launched a new product since the latter was approved in 2004. Having an oral treatment for the disease is important as the MS-treatment market gets more competitive and pressures Biogen's core business.

Novartis AG already sells Gilenya, the first and only approved MS pill, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. is expected to provide detailed data on the first late-stage study of laquinimod at a medical meeting later this week.

Biogen shares recently rose 5.2 percent to $77.27 on the news, continuing a recent run that puts the stock at its highest levels since late 2007 when Biogen unsuccessfully attempted to sell itself. Wall Street had low expectations for the success of the twice-daily group in the BG-12 study, results that added to investor enthusiasm Monday.

The data show that BG-12, given either twice or three times a day, met the main goal of reducing the number of patients that relapsed at two years compared with placebo. The study included more than 1,200 patients.

Both doses also met all of the secondary goals including a cut in the rate of disability progression after two years.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, inflammatory condition that occurs when the body essentially attacks its own central nervous system and can be disabling in advanced stages.

Biogen's pill was tested in the relapsing, remitting form of the disease, which is marked by flare-ups of the disease rather than consistent progression, and comprises the majority of MS cases.

The company did not provide any details on the effectiveness of the drug. That information will be important in determining where it may fit with current and future MS treatments. Biogen said the data will be presented at a medical meeting.

Biogen expects to report data from the other Phase III trials of BG-12 in the second half of the year. That trial tests the drug against Teva's Copaxone, which is one of the most popular treatments for the disease.