Novartis has launched its multiple sclerosis drug Extavia in Europe, its branded version of Bayer's multiple sclerosis drug Betaseron.

Last May, the European Commission has approved Extavia (interferon beta-1b) for the treatment of early and relapsing forms of MS and the Swiss-based major says that the drug will be initially available in Germany and Denmark. Other European launches will follow in 2009.

Extavia is the same drug as Bayer’s Betaseron/Betaferon and the fact that Novartis can market its own version is the result of a deal completed in September 2007. Betaseron was manufactured first by Chiron through a 1993 agreement signed by Schering (now part of Bayer) and subsequently by Novartis which snapped up Chiron in 2006. The settlement gave the German group full rights on Betaseron, while allowing the Basel-headquartered firm the opportunity to launch its branded version in 2009.

Trevor Mundel, global head of development at Novartis, said that Extavia will be “an additional option for receiving a mainstay of care in MS". Perhaps more interestingly, the move “opens the way for Novartis to build supportive partnerships with the MS community and lays the foundations for providing innovative approaches to MS care".

The company added that the launch of Extavia in Europe “marks the beginning of a long-term commitment to meet the therapeutic needs of the MS community”. This will include the establishment of a support programme for Extavia users “that will foster cross-communication between patients and their physicians and nurses”, Novartis said, and “in turn, this will lay the foundations for future potential innovations in MS therapy”.

Novartis is currently developing FTY720 (fingolimod), a once-daily oral therapy for MS and it hopes to file the drug for approval by the end of 2009. The firm said that it also has a number of other compounds for treating MS in early-stage development.