NEW YORK, Aug 17 (Reuters) - U.S. drug maker Biogen Inc is expected to announce a joint venture with Ireland's Elan Corp to develop what could be another blockbuster drug for multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease, the Wall Street Journal said on Thursday.
The deal involves Antegren, an Elan drug now in clinical trials, which has shown promising early results and could hit the market by 2004, the newspaper said in its electronic edition.
If successful in trials, Antegren would provide an alternative for patients who do not do well on Biogen's Avonex or other similar drugs on the market, Biogen Chief Executive James Mullen said.
Antegren could potentially be used as a combination therapy against the disease, the newspaper said.
The drug could generate at least $1 billion in annual sales for multiple sclerosis alone, and could find a larger market if shown to be effective in treating Crohn's, a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract, the newspaper said.
Under Biogen's deal with Elan, both companies will evenly split development costs and profits. Biogen, which will manufacture the drug, is also making undisclosed upfront and milestone payments to Elan, the Journal reported.
Antegren appears to work by stalling an immune reaction that can harm brain tissue, the newspaper noted. In a clinical trial of 72 patients, those given only two doses of Antegren had only half as many new lesions, or areas of damage to the brain from the disease, as those given a placebo, it reported.
The drug is being tested in a longer-range study to determine whether it can slow progression of the disease over time.
About 350,000 Americans have multiple sclerosis, a progressive neurological disorder that can ultimately leave its victims bedridden. Avonex has been shown in clinical trials to delay progression of the disease, but it isn't a cure.
On Wednesday, Biogen shares climbed 2-11/16 to close at 70- after a U.S. district court ruled that Avonex did not infringe on the patent rights of Berlex Laboratories, a unit of Germany's Schering AG
Biogen stock is off a year high of 129.