Cancer drug’s approval as arthritis treatment lifts drug maker’s prospects |

Cancer drug’s approval as arthritis treatment lifts drug maker’s prospects

BOSTON – The approval of the nation’s top-selling cancer drug for a new use to treat rheumatoid arthritis could lead to further indications for Rituxan, which is being studied for other autoimmune disorders such as lupus.An industry analyst said Wednesday that Rituxan’s use for diseases other than cancer could make it a key long-term growth product for the two biotechnology companies behind the drug, Genentech Inc. and Biogen Idec Inc.Rituxan’s prospects are particularly important for Cambridge, Mass.-based Biogen Idec, which is seeking to recover from its withdrawal last year of a multiple sclerosis drug because of safety concerns.Limited data about Rituxan’s non-cancer uses and restrictions on its rheumatoid arthritis indication are expected to limit its near-term market potential, Jason Kantor of RBC Capital Markets said in a research note.”However, we believe as more data becomes available in RA and other autoimmune diseases such as lupus, Rituxan could achieve billion (dollars-per-year) potential in non-cancer indications,” Kantor wrote.Biogen Idec and South San Francisco, Calif.-based Genentech said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had approved Rituxan for treating RA patients for whom other, older drugs don’t work. Those include a class of RA drugs called tumor necrosis factor blockers, including Enbrel, Remicade and Humira.The FDA action was announced after markets closed Tuesday – a day in which Biogen Idec’s shares fell about 6 percent after an analyst reported a poll of doctors found more than half thought it was too soon to return the company’s MS drug, Tysabri, to the market.Shares of Biogen Idec fell 30 cents to close at $46.95 on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Shares of Genentech fell 74 cents to close at $84.95 on the New York Stock Exchange.In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks tissues in the joints, causing inflammation and destroying cartilage, tendons and bones.Rituxan, known formally as rituximab, is being studied as a treatment for other autoimmune diseases including lupus and multiple sclerosis, Genentech and Biogen Idec said.The drug, administered intravenously, was approved eight years ago to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.Rituxan yielded $1.83 billion in U.S. sales last year for Genentech and Biogen Idec, which have a profit-sharing arrangement.Kantor forecasts Rituxan sales for cancer and arthritis will grow to a total $2 billion this year and $2.3 billion next year. Kantor expects about $100 million in first-year Rituxan sales as an arthritis treatment, with startup profits limited by expenses to market the drug for a new use.”They’ve got a lot of selling costs for the product,” he said in an interview.While Kantor called the Rituxan announcement “very good news” for Biogen Idec, he said it was not as crucial to the company’s fortunes as the uncertainty about Tysabri.An FDA advisory panel is scheduled to meet next week to discuss allowing the MS drug back on the market, more than a year after it was pulled because of its links to a rare and often fatal brain disease.Biogen Idec’s shares dropped 42 percent the day the drug was withdrawn, and the company in September announced a plan to eliminate 650 jobs, in part because of Tysabri. Biogen Idec has recently had to rely on other drugs, including Rituxan, to bolster earnings in Tysabri’s absence.—On the Net:Genentech: http://www.gene.comBiogen Idec: http://www.biogenidec.comVail, Colorado

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