Biogen Idec has given an upbeat R&D presentation and outlined a pipeline which consists of more than 60 programmes in 15 indications, six of which are in late-stage trials.

Some 20 drugs are in Phase II and beyond, and Biogen is looking to have two multiple sclerosis treatments in Phase III by the end of the year. One of those is a long-acting, pegylated version of the company's once-weekly blockbuster Avonex (interferon beta-1a). The Phase III trial for the new version is expected to start by the middle of 2009 and last for about one year.

The other is BG-12, a novel oral compound for patients with relapsing-remitting MS. The firm has enrolled nearly 1,300 people for a Phase III trial of BG-12 called DEFINE and enrollment for a second late-stage study (CONFIRM) of the drug is expected to close in mid-2009. Data from both trials are expected in 2011.

Other highlights in the pipeline include lumiliximab for relapsed or refractory chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, which is in Phase II/III, and BIIB014 for Parkinson's disease. Biogen said that it is currently in discussion with regulators surrounding the design of a registration programme for the latter therapy, which provided promising data in a Phase IIa study.

Cecil Pickett, Biogen's head of R&D, said "we have transformed the pipeline over the past three years", claiming with 20 programs in Phase II and beyond, “our pipeline rivals those of companies much larger than us." He added that "we are pioneering some of the industry's most exciting science, including our LINGO and neublastin programs in central nervous system repair".

Dr Pickett went on to state that “our leading research on the TWEAK pathway has potential applications for autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and our bi-specific antibody platform technology could yield more effective therapies for a host of diseases".

Biogen was also positive about future prospects for its big-selling MS drug Tysabri (natalizumab), which has blighted by five reported cases of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, the rare brain disease, in patients since July last year. The firm said that physician confidence surrounding the drug is returning (61% of those sampled agree that the benefits of Tysabri outweigh the risks, up from 45% that agreed following the announcement of two PML cases in June 2008.

Biogen also confirmed that it is now testing mefloquine, a malaria drug marketed by Roche as Lariam, in patients with PML.