Biogen MS pill soars onstage with impressive first-week script numbers

Biogen Idec's ($BIIB) new multiple sclerosis pill made its debut to high expectations earlier this month. And so far, Tecfidera hasn't disappointed. As The Street reports, the drug has literally leapt onto the market. Its first week's worth of prescriptions surpassed 300, a rate that Novartis' ($NVS) first-to-market rival didn't hit until almost three months after launch.

ISI Group analyst Mark Schoenebaum, who sent out the prescription figures in an investor note, called Tecfidera's early numbers "pretty amazing". He was quick to note, however, that "it's way too early to make any kind of definitive statement" on the drug's longer-term prospects.

Gilenya was by far the first oral MS treatment to win FDA approval. It's been on the market since 2010, and brought in $1.2 billion for Novartis in 2012. But that first-to-market advantage has become something of a drawback in recent months, as worries about heart safety emerged. After one patient died and others were hospitalized, FDA added cautionary language to Gilenya's label, requiring that patients be monitored after their first dose and warning against its use in patients with heart problems. Still, Novartis isn't taking Tecfidera's launch lying down; it recently began an aggressive ad campaign aimed at younger MS patients.

Meanwhile, Sanofi's ($SNY) more recent entrant, Aubagio, carries a black-box warning about liver damage, and its efficacy numbers aren't as impressive as Tecfidera's. Studies showed that it reduced the frequency of relapses by about 30%, compared with 44% and 53% in two different Tecfidera trials.

Analysts were expecting a surge of prescriptions for Tecfidera out of the gate, because some doctors had said they were warehousing patients in anticipation of its launch. So, the early spike is likely to taper off as time goes on. Still, Schoenebaum said, Tecfidera needs only to perform about as well as Gilenya did to beat its own forecasted sales numbers. "[A]ny way you look at it, BG-12 appears to be doing very well in its inaugural week," he said.

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