The withdrawal from the market of Biogen Idec and Elan’s multiple sclerosis drug, Tysabri (natalizumab) [[01/03/05a]], will benefit Swiss biotechnology company Serono, which should see faster growth of its own MS treatment Rebif (interferon beta-1b) as a result, according to analysts at Deutsche Bank.

Tysabri’s suspension markedly changes the dynamics of the MS market, and makes Rebif less vulnerable to switching. And this, coupled with Serono’s drive to position its drug favourably against other MS treatments – interferons from Biogen Idec (Avonex) and Schering/Berlex (Betaferon/Betaseron) and Teva’s Copaxone (glatiramer acetate) – will boost projected sales growth of Rebif from 6% to 9% in 2005. This will translate to a $300 million dollar hike in 2008 sales to $1.5 billion dollars, according to Deutsche Bank predictions.

“Serono is now much better placed to defend its franchise,” said the analysts. Rebif is already the leading MS treatment in Europe and has been growing in the US, where the drug’s introduction was delayed by the need to overcome orphan drug protection for Avonex [[08/03/02a]].

Deutsche Bank also notes that while the raft of orally-active treatments for MS coning through development will fundamentally change MS management if they come to market, Serono is as well placed as any company to capitalise on this with its Mylinax (cladribine) candidate, which has just started Phase III testing [[12/01/05d]].

Other companies developing oral MS drugs include Sanofi-Aventis with teriflunomide (Phase III), GlaxoSmithKline and Tanabe with 683699 (Phase II) and Teva with an oral version of Copaxone (Phase II) and laquinimod (Phase II), licensed from Swedish firm Active Biotech. Datamonitor predicted last year that the availability of oral drugs would expand the MS treatment market from around $2.8 billion dollars in 2003 to more than $6 billion dollars in 2012.