Novartis aims Gilenya at advanced MS--and $5.4B

Novartis' ($NVS) latest product, the multiple sclerosis treatment Gilenya, has already been hailed as a prospective blockbuster. But as Bloomberg reports, it could become a megablockbuster on the order of $5 billion-plus in sales, provided tests in patients with advanced MS bear out.

Gilenya won approval in the U.S. in September, becoming the first oral treatment for relapsing-remitting MS. The convenience of a pill over injections is expected to win newly diagnosed patients and woo existing patients away from existing drugs, including Teva Pharmaceutical Industries' Copaxone and Biogen Idec's Avonex. That has analysts predicting $1.8 billion in annual sales by 2014.

But Novartis is hoping that Gilenya will prove helpful to patients with a more severe version of the disease, known as primary-progressive MS. The company is recruiting patients for an 86-center study, based on some studies in rats and on brain scans of human patients using the drug, Novartis' Trevor Mundel told Bloomberg. Results probably wouldn't be forthcoming until 2013, but the prospect already has analysts generating predictions.

"If they can show that it works, then this is a home run," Karl-Heinz Koch, an analyst at Helvea SA in Zurich, told the news service. "This is the holy grail." And UBS put a figure on adding that grail to Gilenya's roster: $5.4 billion. 

- see the Bloomberg piece