Merck KGaA pulls ahead in hot oral MS drug race

Researchers for Merck KGaA say that new analysis of the late-stage data for their oral drug cladribine highlight the drug's potential as a new therapy for multiple sclerosis. Patients taking a short course of the therapy were more likely to go two years without seeing the disease flare up, and that could prove crucial for the developer as it prepares to make its case that cladribine should be neurologists' preferred choice among a slate of experimental oral MS therapies.

Speaking to the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis Congress, researchers said that 43 percent and 44 percent of patients taking two different doses of the drug were symptom-free for the two-year span, compared to only 16 percent who were given a placebo. The German drug developer is racing to gain the first approval of an oral therapy for MS. Novartis has been focused on FTY-720 while Biogen Idec is advancing BG-12. Analysts note that Merck KGaA will have to overcome skepticism about their drug's interference with the human immune system.

"Neurologists we surveyed indicate that oral cladribine, FTY-720, and BG-12 will each be prescribed to patients with any disease subtype but that these therapies will be preferentially prescribed to approximately one-quarter of patients with relapsing-remitting disease," Decision Resources analyst Bethany Kiernan, Ph.D. noted recently. "Yet despite the similarities in projected prescribing patterns among these therapies, our findings indicate that oral cladribine will be favored over FTY-720 as well as BG-12, suggesting that clinicians have begun to differentiate these oral agents from one another."

- read the story from Reuters
- check out the analysis on News-Medical

ALSO: Sanofi, meanwhile, released promising mid-stage data for its oral MS drug, teriflunomide. Report