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Biogen Idec sets price for new MS pill

The Biogen Idec manufacturing plant in Cambridge.

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff/File 2008

The Biogen Idec manufacturing plant in Cambridge.

Biogen Idec Inc. said Friday it will price Tecfidera, its newly approved pill to treat multiple sclerosis, at $54,900 a year per patient in the United States.

Officials at the Weston-based biotechnology company said the figure represents a “solid value” for MS patients, who will take the capsule twice a day. Most MS treatments now on the market have to be injected or taken through intravenous infusion.

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“We think it’s an appropriate price,” said Tony Kingsley, executive vice president for commercial operations at Biogen Idec. “The clinical benefit of the product is very meaningful. We look at it in comparison to the alternatives on the market and the investment we’ve made.”

Biogen Idec, the largest Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, won Food and Drug Administration approval Wednesday to sell the oral therapy. Company officials said Tecfidera will be distributed, stocked, and available to patients “on or around” Monday.

MS is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous systems of about 400,000 people in the US and about 2.5 million worldwide, disrupting communication between the brain and other parts of the body. Over time, patients can suffer from muscle weakness, loss of balance, and a progressive decline in function.

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Most current treatments for MS are priced between $45,000 and $60,000 annually.

The cost of Tecfidera represents a slight premium over the $51,000 projected by investment fund managers polled by New York research firm ISI Group. But it is less expensive than the first MS pill, Gilenya, sold by Swiss drug maker Novartis AG, which costs $60,000.

A more recent market entry, the Aubagio pill marketed by the Cambridge-based Genzyme division of French drug maker Sanofi SA, has been priced at $45,000 a year.

Analysts said Tecfidera has demonstrated greater safety and effectiveness than competing pills.

Health insurance covers most of the cost of the drug for the majority of patients. But Biogen Idec, like other drug makers, sponsors patient assistance programs to help pay for the drugs in cases where all or part of the cost is not covered by private or public payers.

Kingsley said Biogen officials will be talking to commercial and government insurers over the next six to nine months about the clinical benefits of Tecfidera and its potential to lower overall medical expenses by keeping MS patients out of the hospital.

Biogen Idec already sells two other popular MS treatments that patients inject or take intravenously through infusion. Its lead MS treatment Avonex currently is priced at $50,880, while its other MS drug, Tysabri, is priced at $52,449. Another MS treatment, Copaxone, sold by Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., is priced at about $56,000.

Now that Biogen Idec has determined the price of Tecfidera, it can move forward with distributing the drug, Kingsley said.

“We’re days away from getting the product to patients, which we’re very excited about,” he said.

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.
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