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UPDATED: Biogen bolsters key biz with PhIII win for longer-lasting MS drug

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Biogen Idec is working on a long-lasting drug from the same class as Avonex--courtesy of Biogen Idec

Biogen Idec ($BIIB) scored a victory for its bread-and-butter franchise this morning. The large biotech reported that its candidate peginterferon beta-1a, a long-lasting version of a drug in the same class as its blockbuster Avonex, reduced relapse rates in multiple sclerosis patients.

As the biopharma world knows, Biogen's biggest growth prospect in the MS field is its experimental pill, BG-12, which is under FDA review with a decision pending later this quarter. But Avonex is the drug that put Biogen on the MS map, and the injected therapy serves as the biggest-selling drug for the Weston, MA-based biotech. And the med faces lots of competition from rival meds.

So differentiating its interferon beta-1a offerings has been a major priority for Biogen CEO George Scangos and his team. With data from its Phase III trial for peginterferon beta-1a, the company plans later this year to seek U.S. and European approvals for the product, which could cut the number of injections required at least in half. Bloomberg averaged analyst estimates for peginterferon beta-1a sales at $600 million annually by 2015.

In the 1,500-patient "Advance" study, Biogen showed that peginterferon beta-1a reduced annualized relapse rates at one year by 35.6% in patients getting injections every two weeks and by 27.5% in those on four-week dosing compared with placebo. Thus, it nailed the primary goal of the study. And Biogen noted that adverse side effects were similar among all the treatment groups in the trial.

"If approved, peginterferon beta-1a will represent an innovation that offers patients a less frequent dosing schedule of no more than 26 doses annually, as well as a significant reduction in relapses and disability progression," said Gilmore O'Neill, Biogen's vice president of global neurology late stage clinical development, in a statement.

- here's the release
- check out Bloomberg's report

Special Report: BG-12 - 15 top therapies in late-stage development

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Correction: peginterferon beta-1a is not a longer-acting version of Avonex, as previously stated in this article. It's a long-lasting drug from the same class as Avonex. We regret the error.