Novartis Looks to Treat MS Patients Earlier With New Medicine

(Bloomberg) -- Novartis AG, the Swiss drugmaker, is seeking to reach as many as a quarter of a million U.S. patients with an advanced and debilitating form of multiple sclerosis after regulators cleared its new medicine, Mayzent.

The drug was approved to treat secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, which afflicts about 100,000 people in the U.S., said Paul Hudson, head of the Basel, Switzerland-based company’s pharmaceutical business. An additional 150,000 patients might also be candidates for the therapy, as eight out of 10 of people with the more common type of multiple sclerosis, known as relapsing-remitting, will see their disease worsen into the severe form, he said Wednesday.

“There hasn’t really been anything credible to treat these patients with,” Hudson said in a telephone interview. “It’s a big opportunity, but it’s going to require some education.”

Mayzent, with a U.S. list price of $88,500, is the first treatment approved for patients with the secondary form of the disease in more than 15 years. Gilenya, the company’s established MS medicine, is nearing the end of patent exclusivity, and the new drug will help Novartis take on rivals including Roche Holding AG in the $20 billion market.

Mayzent is projected to reach blockbuster status in 2022, with almost $1.2 billion in sales, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Roche’s Ocrevus, approved in the U.S. in 2017, is forecast to generate $3.2 billion in sales this year.

Multiple sclerosis destroys the insulation that protects the nerves and spinal cord, disrupting signals and often leading to disability over the long term. There is no cure, and patients, on average, have a slightly shorter life expectancy than the general population. When the disease worsens, it can lead to bladder dysfunction and cognitive decline while taking away patients’ ability to walk.

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