Biogen Idec's MS Drug Appears to Have an Edge

Biogen Idec's (Nasdaq: BIIB  ) first-quarter profit soared 35.4% to $294 million, but even such strong financial results weren't the news of the day for the biotechnology company.

Biogen Idec executives revealed strong phase 3 clinical trial results for experimental multiple sclerosis drug BG-12, which sent shares of the Weston, Mass.-based company to a 52-week high of $106.99. Shares closed Thursday at $99.70, up 13% over Wednesday's close. Biogen Idec already manufactures MS drugs Tysabri and Avonex at its facility in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Growing sales of both drugs led to the strong financial results for the quarter. If BG-12 proves successful, perhaps Biogen Idec could add a third MS drug to its RTP operations and further strengthen the company's position in MS therapies.

Biogen Idec had signaled earlier this month that it had good news on BG-12. So why all the buzz on BG-12? Avonex is an injectable drug; Tysabri is administered through an intravenous infusion. BG-12 is a pill, and the strong results give Biogen Idec an early lead in the growing market for oral MS drugs, The Wall Street Journal reported.

BG-12 would compete against Gelenya, a pill from Novartis (NYSE: NVS  ) , and experimental drug Laquinimod, a pill that is being developed by Teva Pharmaceutical (Nasdaq: TEVA  ) . Biogen Idec CEO George Scangos said on a conference call with analysts that the drug cut relapses by 49% after two years, a reduction of the annual relapse rate of 53%. BG-12 also appeared to reduce progression of MS by 38%.

No head-to-head drug trials have been conducted, but BG-12's initial results show that it appears to be more effective than Laquinimod. Aaron Gal, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein, told Reuters that BG's trial results position the drug candidate well against Laquinimod as well as other oral drugs. We'll know more soon. A second study of BG-12 is planned for later this year.

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