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Avonex slowdown hits Biogen Idec in first quarter

Sales of multiple sclerosis drug fall on wholesaler stocking and recalls

Weaker-than-expected sales of its multiple sclerosis drug Avonex held back profits at US biotech Biogen Idec, although the company insisted the slowdown was temporary.

Biogen Idec's net income rose 3 per cent to $303m in the quarter, below analysts' consensus estimates, on revenues up 7 per cent to $1.3bn.

Avonex (interferon beta-1a) saw unit sales decline 4 per cent because of wholesaler stocking at the end of 2011 and a recall of short-expiry product, although pricing increases helped sales of the product rise 3 per cent to $662m, once again short of analyst expectations.

Biogen Idec chief executive George Scangos said on a conference call that Avonex orders "were below expectations in January and without this factor we would have met the external estimates", adding that revenues and unit sales were back on track in February and March.

Last week, the firm launched a new intramuscular delivery device for the drug in the US, the Avonex Pen, as well as a new titration kit designed to alleviate first-dose symptoms for new Avonex patients.

Tysabri (natalizumab) for MS also had a good quarter, with sales up 13 per cent to $286m, while profit share from Biogen Idec's joint business arrangement with Roche for arthritis and cancer drug Rituxan (rituximab) were $285m, a rise of 11 per cent.

Fampyra  (prolonged-release fampridine) for improving walking ability in MS patients made a solid start with $15m in revenues in the quarter following launches in Germany, the UK, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Canada.

"Our revenue growth in the first quarter reflects our strong business fundamentals," said Scangos.

He added: "We're optimistic about our business outlook for the year."

With regard to Biogen Idec's pipeline, all eyes at the moment are on BG-12 (dimethyl fumarate), an oral drug candidate for MS that has been filed for approval in the US and Europe.

Scangos said the application has been accepted for review by the EMA, while the FDA looks set to do likewise "within a couple of weeks", setting the programme up for a potential approval in 2013.

The company has six other projects in phase III development, including a pegylated version of interferon beta-1a for MS, long-acting Factor VIII and Factor IX for haemophilia, GA101 for haematological malignancies and dexpramipexole for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

A recently-announced phase III trial of Tysabri in secondary progressive MS is due to generate results in 2015. More details of these programmes will be presented at Biogen Idec's analyst day on June 12, 2012.

2nd May 2012

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