October 24, 2003
Reuters News Service
Serono SA will start head-to-head clinical trials of its Rebif multiple sclerosis drug against Teva Pharmaceutical Industries' rival product Copaxone, Serono officials said on Friday.
The two-year trial will start early next year and, if successful, let Europe's biggest biotech company trumpet its drug to doctors and patients as the superior product.
"We do believe in our product and two years from now we will reinforce the fact that Rebif is more efficacious that Copaxone," Serono Chief Executive Ernesto Bertareli told Reuters after a presentation to analysts.
Serono used a similar head-to-head trial to break the U.S. marketing exclusivity of Biogen Inc's Avonex, which is still the world's top-selling MS drug.
Rebif, which just took over second place, generated third-quarter sales of $212 million, up by more than half from the year-earlier quarter. Serono aims to make it the global market leader by 2006.
Bertarelli, the billionaire yachtsman who just won the America's Cup, said he was optimistic Rebif would have the same success in trials against Copaxone as it did versus Avonex.
"We are very confident, way more confident that when we started head-to-head trials with Avonex," he said.
He declined to give an overall growth forecast for Serono in 2004 or beyond. The company said on Thursday it was on track to boost total revenue and net profit by 20 percent in 2003.
"We can certainly repeat the performance we have had in the past," he said, citing Serono's double-digit annual growth in revenue and earnings and solid development pipeline.
"Long term, looking at what you have seen today, I feel more confident than when I became CEO of Serono in 1996," he said.
In addition to its neurology franchise, Serono is the world's leading maker of fertility drugs and growth hormones.
It is set to enter the dermatology market next year thanks to the psoriasis drug Raptiva it licensed from Genentech Inc outside the U.S. and Japanese markets. Raptiva is still awaiting regulatory approval.
Serono said it aimed to build on its existing business by adding drugs
that address related diseases. It highlighted drugs in early development
stages that seek to treat pancreatic cancer and melanoma, diabetes, multiple
sclerosis and that prevent premature labour.
Copyright © 2003, Reuters News Service