Monday, September 22, 2008

Biogen Idec MS pill found to slow damage

Bloomberg News / September 19, 2008

NEW YORK - Biogen Idec Inc.'s experimental pill to treat multiple sclerosis prevented brain lesions associated with the disease from getting worse, a study found.

The pill, called BG-12, reduced the conversion of new spots of inflammation into permanent damage in a trial of 56 patients, Biogen said yesterday at the World Congress on Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis in Montreal.

In MS, neurons are stripped of an insulating coating known as myelin by the immune system, causing the cells to malfunction. That leads to MS symptoms such as muscle weakness and loss of coordination, according to the Mayo Clinic. Biogen has received approval from US regulators to speed the review process for its pill, the company said yesterday. If cleared for sale in the United States, BG-12 could be the first oral medication for MS patients to reach the market.

"There are two elements: You want to keep the lesions from forming in the first place and then, even if a lesion developed, you want to know the damage is reduced, and that's what you're seeing," said Mike Panzara, the chief medical officer for Cambridge, Mass.-based Biogen in a telephone interview yesterday. "Even if a lesion does develop on BG-12, injury is less because it's less often the lesions become permanent."

About 29 percent of the lesions in the brains of patients on BG-12 turned into signs of permanent damage, compared with 44 percent of those in the placebo group, the study showed.

The company began final-stage testing on BG-12 in January. The trials, on more than 2,000 patients with a recurring form of the disease, will last two years. The drug is being compared with a placebo and with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries' Copaxone, an approved treatment for the disease.

Biogen Idec sells the MS drugs Avonex, which is given as a once-a-week injection, and Tysabri, an infusion given once a month in a doctor's office or hospital clinic. About 1 million people worldwide suffer from MS.

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