Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Merck and Novartis Battle Over Oral Medication Worth 1.3 Billion

There has been talk of an oral medication being able to treat Multiple Sclerosis with results better than those achieved by costly injections and infusions. Now Merck, of Darmstadt, Germany, and Novartis, of Basel, Switzerland are asking regulators to approve two new drugs for market this year.

Other pharmaceutical companies such as Teva Pharmaceutical, Biogen Idec and Sanofi-Aventis are also in the running for an oral treatment. However, according to an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, a London based investment research and asset management firm, their treatments may not reach market to 2012. For Merck, there is an added pressure for successful launch of the drug. It's drug Rebif, with a reported revenue of 1.57 billion in 2007, will lose patent protection in 2012. It has said that the new oral tablet could be its next "1-billion-a-year" seller.

Merck's oral medication is called Cladribine and Novartis' goes by Fingolimod. Both pills will need to overcome saftey concerns before they can be approved. The drugs lower the amount of immune cells in the body which could leave the body vulnerable to infection. Cladribine is also used as a treatment for Leukemia. Patients who took the drug did so only in the short term, MS patients would be on the medication for much longer. It is these long term side effects which are unclear. Final tests are to be completed later this year. Bruno Musch, head of the global clinical development unit for neurodegenerative diseases at Merck, has said that there wasn't "anything in the study that could prevent the drug from being given to patients."

This video discusses the potential benefits of the new drug from its phase II clinical trials. It has since been approved for further testing. Merck and Novartis will seek approval to market the drug this year.

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