More MS news articles for Dec 2001

Study: Alternative MS drugs promising

By Jeffrey Krasner, Globe Staff

A recent study comparing three drugs for multiple sclerosis suggests that alternatives to Biogen Inc.'s big-selling Avonex may have some advantages in treating some forms of the disease.

But Cambridge-based Biogen said the study is limited and it doesn't properly illustrate Avonex's effectiveness in treating the degenerative neurological disease.

The study compared Avonex with Copaxone, made by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., and Betaseron, made by Schering AG. It looked at patients with an on-again, off-again relapsing form of multiple sclerosis.

Dr. Omar Khan of Wayne State University School of Medicine said Copaxone and Betaseron more effectively slowed the relapse rate among a group of 156 patients. But Khan's conclusions had little to do with the comparative efficacy of the drugs.

''Foremost, the study indicates that treatment does make a difference and physicians should encourage early treatment,'' said Khan in a statement. He also said the study ''was not intended to be definitive or conclusive'' in determining which of the treatments was most effective.

A Biogen spokeswoman, Kathleen O'Donnell, said, ''Dr. Khan's study doesn't represent the quality of good science that one has seen in looking at the therapies for multiple sclerosis, nor does it represent the preponderance of evidence and well-controlled clinical trials with Avonex that has clearly demonstrated Avonex's efficacy against broad parameters for treating the disease, not just relapses.

''Avonex remains the leading treatment of choice around the world with 114,000 patients on the therapy, and it has demonstrated a 44 percent reduction in relapses,'' she said.

A Schering spokeswoman said the study highlighted benefits for its drug. ''The primary advantage of [Betaseron] is it's a high dose with high frequency,'' said Jane Kramer. ''This study suggests that our product is more efficacious than others on the market.''

About 333,000 people in the United States suffer from multiple sclerosis, which occurs when the coating of nerves in the body breaks down or becomes inflamed. The disease generates numerous disabling symptoms, and there is no cure.

Biogen introduced Avonex in the United States in 1996 and in Europe in 1997. The drug has pushed Biogen's sales to a projected $1 billion this year. Avonex has so-called orphan drug status here, making it the only therapy approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for treatment of MS. Several companies, including Switzerland-based Serono SA, are seeking to break Biogen's exclusive hold on the US market.

© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company