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Biogen-Novartis MS Drug Fight Hits Social Media

Over the past month, the track record for the newly launched Tecfidera multiple sclerosis pill has become a closely watched exercise on Wall Street. Each week for the past month, analysts have been poring over prescription data to gauge the extent to which the drug, which is sold by Biogen Idec (BIIB), is capturing market share and how many billions of dollars in sales may be generated this year (covered in prior Pharma news).

BIIB Revenue TTM Chart

BIIB Revenue TTM data by YCharts

As seen in the chart above, a new drug bringing in billions of dollars would make a huge difference to Biogen and the market's view of its financial data. As expectations have grown for the new drug, Biogen's PE ratio has soared.

Last week, Tecfidera prescriptions rose 27 percent, a substantial increase, although less than the 37 percent gain noticed during the previous week. Not surprisingly, some of this reflects patients who are switching from older MS drugs that are injectables, such as Copaxone and Avonex, which is also sold by Biogen.

A key issue, however, is the emerging horse race between Biogen and Novartis (NVS), which sells the rival Gilenya pill that was approved in September 2010 and generated $1.2 billion in sales lin 2012. Last year, though, a spate of bad publicity about heart risks emerged after a few patient deaths and Novartis is keen on fending off Biogen (see earlier Pharma news).

BIIB Chart

BIIB data by YCharts

To do so, the drug maker recently began pushing an aggressive advertising campaign aimed at younger patients and also began sponsoring lunches at restaurants around the country where patients and caregivers can learn more about its pill. The pricing, by the way, is similar. The average wholesale price for Tecfidera is $54,900, compared with $58,000 for Gilenya.

So far, Tecfidera is grabbing market share from the older injectables, according to Leerink Swann analyst Marko Kozul. But how vulnerable is Gilenya? This remains unclear, but perhaps a spot check of social media postings can provide some insight. For instance, between April 15 and May 20, Tecfidera was the most-discussed MS treatment on the Internet, according to Treato, a market research firm.

To read the remainder of this article, go to Pharmalot.

Ed Silverman, a contributing editor of YCharts, is the founder and editor of Pharmalot. He previously reported on the pharmaceutical industry and other business topics for the Star-Ledger of New Jersey, New York Newsday and Investor’s Business Daily. He can be reached at editor@ycharts.com.

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