Sunday, May 11

Biogen Tests Malaria Drug for Tysabri Brain Infection (Update3)

March 24 (Bloomberg) -- Biogen Idec Inc. may have found a treatment for the deadly brain infections that have been tied to use of its multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri, the biotechnology company’s fastest-growing product.

A malaria pill developed during the Vietnam War is being tested by Biogen on patients with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, the brain disorder known as PML, said Al Sandrock, Biogen’s head of neurology research. Tysabri was pulled from the market in 2005 after three PML cases were reported. It was reintroduced a year later when U.S. regulators said the medication’s effectiveness, twice that of other MS drugs, outweighed its risks.

In 2008, Tysabri generated $813 million in revenue for Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Biogen and its marketing partner, Elan Corp., of Dublin. The companies also reported five new PML cases since July, reigniting concerns of patients who believe a safer Tysabri would be their best treatment option, said John Rickert of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Without the risk, sales may more than triple, said Eric Schmidt, a Cowen & Co. analyst in New York, in a telephone interview.

“If they resolved that dangerous situation, I would definitely resume therapy with Tysabri,” said Suzanne Carroll, 53, a Toledo, Ohio, radio-show host who stopped taking the medicine when she developed pneumonia and shingles. Her doctor told her those infections indicated she may be vulnerable to PML, Carroll said.

‘Felt Great’

“I really felt great on the drug,” said Carroll, who produces radio program, “The Jazz Brunch.” “It disappoints me so strongly that I’m not able to take it.”
Biogen may discuss its Tysabri safety efforts at a meeting tomorrow with investors and analysts to present its latest drug research. The company fell 50 cents, or less than 1 percent, to $51 in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading at 4:14 p.m. New York time, after dropping 16 percent in the 12 months before today. Elan’s shares increased 11 percent, or 46 cents, to 4.48 euros in the full story in Bloomberg