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Biogen Idec MS drug is approved by European regulators

European regulators Wednesday gave Cambridge biotech Biogen Idec Inc. approval to sell a new kind of injectable drug to treat multiple sclerosis.

The medicine, called Plegridy, treats adults with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, the most common form of the neurodegenerative disease. An application to sell Plegridy in the United States is pending with the Food and Drug Administration and a decision is expected later this summer.

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Plegridy is an interferon drug, the same type of treatment as Biogen Idec’s first multiple sclerosis therapy, Avonex, which is still on the market. But while Avonex typically is injected into the muscle once a week, Plegridy can be taken by injection once every two weeks and administered under the skin with a prefilled auto-injector.

Biogen Idec executives said the new drug is safer and more effective and has fewer side effects than first-generation interferons. It also has an attached protein that allows it to be longer lasting.

“The innovation here is meaningful,” said Tony Kingsley, executive vice president of global commercial operations at Biogen Idec. “We think it has the potential to become the go-to interferon.”

Shares of Biogen Idec climbed $33.93 to $337.60 Wednesday, a gain of 11.2 percent on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

Biogen Idec is the largest seller of MS drugs. In addition to Avonex, it also markets Tysabri and the best-selling pill to treat the disease, Tecfidera.

Although use of injectable interferons are on the decline, they are still used by more than half of MS patients worldwide. Analysts say such drugs will continue to represent a significant business for the foreseeable future.

Biogen Idec has not estimated the size of the potential market for Plegridy.

Company executives acknowledge Plegridy, developed in the company’s labs, could cut into sales of Avonex. But they also believe patients taking other interferons sold by rival drug makers might switch to Plegridy. That would help Biogen Idec slow the decline of its inteferon market as more patients move away from injectable drugs to pills.

“This is part of our long-term commitment to the MS category,” Kingsley said.

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