Biogen Idec's new oral MS drug offers novel approach

Biogen Idec's ($BIIB) recently approved Tecfidera, a blockbuster oral treatment for multiple sclerosis, is set to hit pharmacies this week, filling the need for a safe and effective option for patients with the disease.

Tecfidera, formerly BG-12, is the third oral MS treatment approved, and analysts expect it to dominate the reported $12 billion market, pulling in a potential $3 billion a year. For patients with MS, one of the most common causes of neurological disabilities in young adults, Tecfidera is a welcome alternative to frequent injections.

"Oral delivery opens the door for patients who cannot tolerate or will not take injections," Biogen representative Kate Niazi-Sai told FierceDrugDelivery in an email. "Tecfidera targets MS differently than other products, and while its exact mechanism of action is unknown, it has been shown to activate the Nrf2 pathway."

The Nrf2 pathway, Niazi-Sai wrote, "provides a way for cells in the body to defend themselves against inflammation and other types of stress caused by conditions like MS." And although Biogen is unaware of the exact mechanism that enables it, according to Niazi-Sai, the activation of the pathway cuts the MS relapse rate in half, as shown in late-stage clinical trials.

This is a better result than other oral treatments have had in the past, and one with fewer side effects. For instance, Biogen's MS injection Tysabri has been shown to cause a potentially fatal brain infection, and side effects from MS drugs can be particularly hard on the immune system.

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