German drugmaker, Schering AG, has unveiled strong data from the Phase III BENEFIT trial of its top-selling drug Betaseron (interferon beta-1b), which showed that the drug slashed the risk of developing full-blown multiple sclerosis in early-stage patients by 50% - opening the door to a potentially much bigger market.

Results from the study revealed that patients in the treatment group experienced an additional 363 days delay in disease development compared to the placebo arm. “The data on Betaferon will improve therapy options for the treatment of newly emerging MS,” stated Dr Joachim-Friedrich Kapp, Head of Specialised Therapeutics at Schering AG. “They demonstrate the importance of treating patients early on to provide rapid, early control of progression to definite multiple sclerosis.”

As a consequence, the group said it is planning to submit the trial data to both European and US regulators for approval of a label extension, which will lend support to making early treatment decisions in patients with the first clinical signs of the condition. Commenting on the study’s findings, Sal Oppenheim analyst Marcu Konstanti told Reuters that the results should “help the company in selling Betaseron in the face of a tough market environment," and forecast sales of 840 million euros for 2005 followed by mid-single-digit percentage growth next year.

For 2004, Schering recorded Betaseron turnover of 782 million euros, marking growth of around 5% over that generated in the prior year [[09/02/05b]] while, for the first quarter of this year, turnover rose 4% to 181 million euros [[26/04/05a]]. The company is looking to bolster its Betaseron franchise to help buffer the effects of strong competition from drugs made by Israeli drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Swiss biotechnology group Serono and US company Biogen Idec.