More MS news articles for Aug 2001

Biogen, Serono Claim Victory in MS Spat

Sunday August 19, 8:36 AM EDT

ZURICH (Reuters) - U.S.-based Biogen Inc. and Switzerland's Serono SA both claimed victory at the weekend in a bitter legal dispute between the biotechnology companies over their rival multiple sclerosis drugs.

The two firms took diametrically opposite readings of a Geneva court's ruling on Saturday on how Serono could portray the findings of a head-to-head clinical study it conducted of its Rebif drug against Biogen's Avonex.

Biogen said in a statement that the court upheld an injunction issued in June that bars Serono from making certain comparative claims about the efficacy of Rebif versus Avonex.

"The court today confirmed that injunction and maintains a prohibition against Serono to make any of those statements in any advertisement," Francois Bellanger, an attorney for Biogen, told Reuters.

"It also prohibits Serono from advertising to health professionals. They are only authorized to give the result of the study without any comment," he said.

But a Serono spokesman said the court had only said the company could not compare Rebif to Avonex in promoting its product to the general public.

"The court has really just stuck to a very technical interpretation on the advertising and promotional claims for the public. More importantly, it has actually held Serono's right to distribute the full results of the study to the neurological and patient community," spokesman Nick Miles said.

"For us, Biogen's claims of victory are completely misleading," he said, adding the court had not ruled on the accuracy or validity of the claims themselves.

The only point on which the two sides agreed was that the court allowed Serono to say the study was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Since the initial presentation in May of the results of the head-to-head study, Serono shares rallied from around 1,400 Swiss francs to more than 1,800 in early July before settling back to close on Friday at 1,420.

Serono, Europe's biggest biotech company, needs to prove Rebif is more effective than Avonex if it is to have any chance of ending the Biogen product's U.S. "orphan drug" status early. Orphan drug status shields from competition for a limited time drugs that treat relatively uncommon diseases.

Serono wants to sell Rebif in the billion-dollar U.S. market for MS in 2002, a year before Avonex's marketing exclusivity runs out automatically in May 2003.

©2001 Reuters Limited.