(Adds CEO comments, other details, byline)
By Deena Beasley
LOS ANGELES, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Biogen Idec Inc (BIIB.O) has moved a long-acting version of its multiple sclerosis drug, Avonex, directly into trials designed to meet requirements for regulatory approval, the company’s chief executive said on Wednesday.
CEO Jim Mullen said during an investor conference held in New York that the company has completed Phase 1 trials and will study dosing the drug once every two weeks as well as once monthly.
“I think we’ve got a good chance of similar efficacy as interferons,” he said.
Patients in the trials will be treated for one year with the injectable drug and full results will likely be available in two years, Mullen added.
Avonex, with sales of $573 million in the third quarter of 2008, is the leading drug for multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease in which the body mistakenly attacks the fatty myelin coating surrounding nerve cells.
Biogen, along with marketing partner Elan Corp Plc ELN.I, also sells MS drug Tysabri, which was taken off the market after its 2004 introduction when it was linked to a potentially fatal brain infection, but reintroduced beginning in 2006 because there were so few good options for patients with MS.
Mullen said investors continue to underestimate the newer drug’s sales potential: “We have a much more bullish view on Tysabri than the Street does.”
“We’ve got a 40 share of the overall MS market, which could easily go to 50,” the CEO said.
He said other discrepancies between Biogen’s outlook and that of Wall Street include the company’s “more bullish view on the sustainability of Avonex,” growth potential for the franchise surrounding non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma drug Rituxan, and additional opportunities for trimming costs.
Mullen said Biogen will no longer report new cases of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, the brain infection associated with Tysabri, through filings with securities regulators, but will instead issue weekly updates on its Web site. (Reporting by Deena Beasley; Editing by Andre Grenon and Matthew Lewis)