Novartis, Sanofi, Biogen tout new MS drug research

New data is rolling out at the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis annual meeting this week, with the new slate of oral treatments in the spotlight, along with a lineup of older injectables and experimental drugs. So far, one common theme is this: Early treatment equals better results.

In any disease, the earlier a drug can get into the mix of possible treatments, the better. So, it's no surprise that Sanofi ($SNY) and Biogen Idec ($BIIB) each touted data on early use of their MS treatments Aubagio (teriflunomide) and Tysabri (natalizumab), respectively.

Aubagio, the MS pill approved last year by the FDA and this year by European regulators, reduced the risk of a second attack in patients with early MS symptoms. For patients on the higher, 14-mg dose, the risk was reduced by 43%. The higher dose also cut the risk of a new relapse or brain lesion by 35%. In both cases, Aubagio was compared with placebo. The results "underscore Aubagio's potential for treating patients at earlier stages of MS," Dr. David Meeker, CEO of Sanofi's Genzyme unit, said in a statement.

Tysabri, Biogen's infusion treatment, has long been used in patients who've either failed on or can't tolerate other treatments. Biogen unveiled new data analyses that showed patients who started on Tysabri at lower levels of disability saw particularly significant reductions in MS activity, as did patients treated for longer than two years. "These analyses build upon a growing body of evidence that demonstrates greater clinical benefits for people with MS when Tysabri is initiated earlier in the course of the disease," Biogen CMO Dr. Alfred Sandrock said in a statement. Biogen asked the FDA to approve earlier use of Tysabri in certain patients in January.

Meanwhile, Novartis ($NVS) unveiled real-world treatment data gathered from a disease registry and a health claims database, comparing Gilenya (fingolimod) with other standard MS treatments. The Novartis drug cut the annualized relapse rate by about 50% compared with interferon drugs or Teva's ($TEVA) Copaxone (glatiramer acetate), the study found. It also found that patients with a history of relapse saw fewer of them after switching to Gilenya. "It is encouraging to see that the benefits of Gilenya, which is the only disease-modifying treatment proven in clinical studies to have a superior relapse reduction compared to an active comparator, are now confirmed in a real-world setting," Novartis Pharmaceuticals chief David Epstein said.

The ECTRIMS meeting continues through Saturday, with more studies from Biogen, Sanofi and others yet to come.

- see the Sanofi release (PDF)
- get the statement from Biogen
- check out the Novartis announcement

Special Report: Top 15 Drug Launch Superstars - Gilenya - Tecfidera

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