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Biogen’s new MS drug to cost $62,036 a year

Cambridge biotech Biogen Idec Inc. said Friday it will charge $62,036 per patient for a year’s treatment with its newly approved multiple sclerosis drug Plegridy.

The list price of Plegridy, a new type of injectable drug that treats adults with the most common form of MS, is identical to that of Biogen Idec’s original injectable, Avonex, which is still on the market.

Plegridy, a longer-lasting drug for patients with relapsing-remitting MS, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Aug. 15 for US sale. Biogen Idec disclosed the price Friday before releasing the drug to distributors.

“We’re pricing for the innovation,” said Biogen Idec spokeswoman Kate Niazi-Sai. “But we’re also pricing to make sure patients have access to it and the system can support it. That’s a balance, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

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Drug pricing has become a hot button issue in an era of rising health costs.

Payments for Sovaldi, a $1,000-a-day pill to treat hepatitis C, has strained the finances of health insurers. Sovaldi, sold by California-based Gilead Sciences, costs $84,000 for a three-month treatment regimen. Last month, another Cambridge biotech, Genzyme, priced its new pill to treat Gaucher disease at $310,250 a year for the small population of US patients suffering from the rare genetic disorder.

Biogen Idec’s own pill to treat MS, called Tecfidera, costs $60,121 a year.

Plegridy, the latest addition to Biogen Idec’s portfolio of MS medicines, also has been approved by the European Commission for sale in 28 countries across the Atlantic.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic autoimmune disorder affecting the central nervous systems of at least 400,000 people in the United States and more than 2.3 million globally. It disrupts communication between the brain and other parts of the body, over time causing muscle weakness, loss of balance, and a progressive decline in physical functions.

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Plegridy has the same active ingredient, interferon beta, as Avonex. But the company attached a polymer called polyethylene glycol, or peg, to Plegridy that increases the exposure of the drug, allowing patients to take doses less frequently. While Avonex has to be injected into the muscle once a week, Plegridy can be taken by injection every two weeks, administered under the skin with an auto-injector.

Biogen Idec hopes to transition many patients over time from Avonex and other first-generation interferons, some of which have to be injected three times a week, to the longer-lasting drug Plegridy. But the company has no plans to discontinue the sale of Avonex.


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