$50,000-a-Year MS Drugs: Pharma Growth Battle

Here is one way to tell that the battle in the multiple sclerosis market is heating up. Now that Biogen Idec (BIIB) has successfully launched its newly approved Tecfidera treatment - which showed a stunning 120 percent rise in prescriptions in only its second week (see this) - Novartis (NVS) is hoping to woo multiple sclerosis patients and caregivers with a free lunch.

The drugmaker, which sells the rival Gilenya medication, is sponsoring a luncheon tomorrow at a restaurant in Newark, New Jersey, where a neurologist will discuss 'treatment options.' The event offers a light meal for up to 40 people and Novartis promises this will be an opportunity to 'connect with people living in your community living with MS,' as the ad indicates.

This is just one of many such events that Novartis will be hosting around the country in coming weeks, according to the Gilenya MS Line. There will be meals in Massachusetts and California, for instance, as the drugmaker works hard to counter Tecfidera and maintain its market share. Although the Biogen pill only just launched, Wall Street analysts believe the drug can eventually notch up to $6 billion in annual sales.

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Tecfidera has generated substantial interest among patients as well because clinical trials demonstrated the pill was significantly more effective in reducing relapses and slowing disability than widely used injectables, such as Copaxone, Rebif, Avonex and Betaseron. However, combined clinical trial data showed Tecfidera cut average relapse rates by 49 percent after two years compared with patients taking a placebo.

Moreover, Biogen priced Tecfidera below Gilenya - the average wholesale price is $54,900, compared with $58,000 for Gilenya and about $45,000 for Abagio, another new MS pill, which is sold by Sanofi (SNY). However, Tecfidera is still new, so it remains unclear whether the prescription trend will continue, but already Abagio prescriptions show signs of flattening.

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

Carla Fried, a senior contributing editor at ycharts.com, has covered investing for more than 25 years. Her work appears in The New York Times, Bloomberg.com and Money Magazine. She can be reached at editor@ycharts.com.



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