More MS news articles for June 2001

Stock Focus: Neuromuscular Diseases

Thursday June 14, 8:48 am Eastern Time
By Fei Mei Chan

An estimated 250,000 to 350,000 people in the U.S. suffer from multiple sclerosis, a neuromuscular disease that's more prevalent among women than men. MS typically strikes people in their thirties, and while the disease is usually not fatal, it can be debilitating.

In MS, patches of inflammation occur around nerve cell fibers in the brain and spinal cord causing the destruction of the myelin--the protective coating--around these cells. In severe inflammation, scar tissue known as plaque replaces the myelin in the nervous system.

Avonex, produced by Biogen , is most commonly prescribed to treat MS. This drug is a class of beta interferon (a protein that slows inflammatory activity), and it reduces the frequency of neurological attacks associated with the disease. Eric Shen, research analyst for Robertson Stephens, says that Avonex has at least 50% of the market for treating MS in the U.S.

Avonex is patent-protected in the U.S. under the Orphan Drug Law until mid-2003. Serono , based in Switzerland, is trying to get U.S. approval for a similar drug, Rebif, which is already marketed in Europe. Shen believes Avonex would remain competitive, even if Rebif makes it through the regulatory hurdles.

Antegren, discovered by Elan , is in the process of entering Phase III trials since positive results were reported from Phase II trials in January. Current indications are for MS and Crohn's disease. Antegren is an alpha 4 integrin inhibitor, and it works by binding to lymphocyte receptors of immune cells, preventing them from migrating to the site of inflammation. Biogen is collaborating with Elan in developing Antegren.

Doctors still have few drugs at their disposal to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. A relatively small number (5,000) of new cases of ALS are diagnosed every year, but the disease, which is more likely to occur in men than in women, is deadly. Average life span from the onset of the disease is three to five years.

ALS is marked by degeneration of motor neurons, making them unable to send electrical impulses to related muscles. Muscles weaken and waste away, resulting in paralysis. Aventis ' Rilutek, which delays the progression of the disease in its early stages, is the only drug that's approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat ALS.

ALS belongs to a family of diseases called neurodegenerative diseases, which includes Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease. These diseases are similar enough that a new treatment for one ailment could be potentially useful for treating others.

Amgen and Guilford are currently in Phase II trials of a class of compounds called neuroimmunophilins--agents that could potentially help regenerate and repair nerves in patients with Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's currently afflicts 500,000 Americans; 50,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. In Parkinson's, the inability to control movements is caused when dopamine-producing neurons die or become damaged. The most common treatment for Parkinson's is levodopa (L-dopa), which helps to replace dopamine in the brain.

Aventis is currently in Phase III of clinical trials for treatment of Parkinson's with Rilutek, the same drug used to treat MS. The company expects to gain FDA approval of Rilutek as a treatment for Parkinson's in 2004.

Our table lists eight pharmaceutical companies that produce, or are developing, drugs used to treat neuromuscular diseases.

Neuromuscular Disease StocksPrices as of June 13. NA: Not Available. EPS: Earnings per share. *Annualized; projected over the next three to five years. Sources: FT Interactive Data, Market Guide and Thomson Financial/IBES via FactSet Research Systems; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; ALS Association
Company Price Change from 52-Week High 2001 Estimated EPS Estimated EPS Growth (%)* Market Value ($mil) Disease
Amgen $67.75 -16% 1.18 18% $70,677 ALS
Aventis 74.60 -15 1.85 32 58,627 ALS, Parkinson's
Biogen 65.40 -14 1.90 24 9,720 MS
Elan 56.61 -6 1.91 28 18,232 MS
Guilford Pharmaceuticals 22.06 -25 -2.22 NA 587 ALS, Parkinson's
NeoTherapeutics 4.27 -69 NA NA 79 ALS, Parkinson's
Serono 23.81 -25 0.51 24 16,342 MS
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries 62.47 -21 1.78 25 7,806 MS