The day after Biogen Inc. released clinical trial data proving itsrecombinant interferon beta significantly delayed progression ofmultiple sclerosis, the Cambridge, Mass.-based company's stockslipped $2, or almost 4 percent.The slight dip was a contrast to the surge from $29.50 to a high of$55.75 during the last several months based on Biogen's initialannouncement in July that its Phase III trials showed the drugattacked the underlying mechanism of the disease. Biogen's stock(NASDAQ:BGEN) Tuesday closed at $50.Analysts said the specific data, which was not released untilMonday, matched expectations raised last summer that Biogen'sproduct likely would be the first on the market that haddemonstrated it delayed the disease's progression as well as reducedrelapses.But some analysts also said Tuesday the results did not prove thatBiogen's interferon beta was significantly better in treating thedisease than Chiron Corp.'s Betaseron, another form of interferonbeta, already on the market.Chiron, of Emeryville, Calif., and Germany-based Schering AGreceived FDA approval last year to sell Betaseron for multiplesclerosis. Betaseron's clinical trials showed it reduced relapses, butthe studies fell short of demonstrating that the drug affected thedisease's progression.Jay Silverman, of Wertheim Schroder in New York, said, "Therewere huge expectations built into this [Biogen trial results], butwhen you looked at the data, it didn't look much different fromChiron's."David Crossen, of UBS Securities in New York, said Chiron mayhave missed affecting the progression of the disability because itspatient population was sicker than that used in Biogen's trial. Themain advantage of Biogen's drug, he said, is that its form ofinterferon beta appears to have lesser side effects than Chiron'sproduct.Peter Drake, of Vector Securities in Deerfield, Ill., said he wassomewhat concerned Biogen had not achieved all its secondaryendpoints. In particular, he mentioned that although the magneticresonance imaging (MRI) scans showed reduction in number andvolume of active brain lesions, the results were achieved with anMRI enhancing agent.In addition to questions about the trial data, both Crossen and Drakesaid Biogen's stock may have been impacted by suspicions createdwhen the company presented data to market analysts during a two-hour conference call Monday."They [Biogen officials] were not straightforward and it led toconfusion," Drake said, "and as a result a lot of people sold stock."Crossen said Biogen's failure to have experts in the trial's clinicaldesign participate in the data presentation also created uncertainty."It aggravated the negatives on the part of some people," he added.A Near Term ReactionSilverman said the slight dip in the stock may be only a near termreaction to all the anticipation that had been driving the stock upsince July. Drake also said some of the selling Tuesday involvedpeople cashing in considerable profits on the stock's surge.Crossen added that Biogen's interferon beta is expected to hit themarket in 1996 and its lesser side effects and better dosing regimenshould give it an edge.He speculated that the drugs of both Biogen and Chiron will be thetreatments of choice for multiple sclerosis and in five years 44percent of patients with the disease will be taking the interferon betaproducts.Chiron and Schering AG this year have reported $280 million insales, Crossen observed, with Chiron realizing about $80 million ofthe total.Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., of Jerusalem, also releasedPhase III trial data Monday of its drug, Copaxone (coploymer 1) formultiple sclerosis. The company said the drug, which is differentfrom interferon beta, achieved its primary endpoint of reducingrelapses.Researchers said the trial was not designed to measure effectivenessin slowing the disease, but patients were evaluated for changingdisability and the data showed a statistical significance in delayingthe disease's progress.Carole Ben-Maimon, Teva's vice president of medical andregulatory affairs, said it's difficult to compare Copaxone to theinterferon beta drugs because the underlying mechanism of thetreatments is different. The copolymer 1 is a four-amino acidpeptide that is thought to trigger an autoimmune response to thedisease.Drake said it would be advantageous to conduct a trial comparingcopolymer 1 to the interferon beta drugs along with testing acombination of the products.Ben-Maimon said the company has no plans for such trials andexpects to file for market approval of Copaxane in the secondquarter of 1995. n
-- Charles Craig
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