Biogen Idec says that its multiple sclerosis therapy Avonex is now available in Japan, some 10 years after its introduction in the USA.

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare approved Avonex (interferon beta-1a) in July as a treatment for relapsing forms of MS. There are around 12,000 sufferers of MS in Japan, but the disease tends to be under-treated because doctors tend to go for acute rather than chronic treatment.

Avonex is only the second beta interferon product to be made available in Japan, after Schering’s Betaseron (interferon beta-1b). It is doses once a week, while the latter is given every other day.

The Japanese government recently established a MHLW panel to look into the reasons why it takes so long for new drugs to become available to consumers. The suggestion is that low numbers of regulatory review staff, as well as inefficiencies in clinical research, are responsible.

Avonex is the first new MS treatment to be made available in Japan in six years, according to Biogen Idec.