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Novartis Gilenya Patient Diagnosed With Rare Infection

A patient taking Novartis AG’s Gilenya multiple sclerosis pill contracted a potentially deadly brain infection, adding to concern that the medicine may lose ground to a competing product.

Unlike a previous case, the patient hadn’t taken Biogen Idec Inc.’s Tysabri injection, an MS drug that increases the risk of the viral infection, known as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, Novartis said in an e-mail today.

“This may cause some further jitters about the growth potential of this drug, which is a key driver for the company,” Richard Parkes, an analyst at Deutsche Bank AG, wrote in a report today.

Novartis, based in Basel, Switzerland, already faces increased competition for Gilenya from Biogen’s Tecfidera, another oral MS medicine that was approved by U.S.regulators this year. Gilenya sales surged 66 percent to $468 million in the second quarter, Novartis said July 17.

Novartis fell 0.6 percent to 66.25 Swiss francs in Zurich. The Bloomberg Europe Pharmaceutical Index fell 0.2 percent.

Second-quarter revenue from Tecfidera was $192 million, Biogen said July 25, more than double analysts’ average estimate.

The patient who contracted progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy had been treated with Gilenya for seven months, Novartis said in an e-mailed statement today.

There had been no cases of PML attributed to Gilenya among about 71,000 patients treated with the drug, the company said. In a case last year, the patient who contracted PML had previously used Tysabri.

“Given several atypical features of the case, Novartis is working with the reporting physician to further understand all possible contributing factors including those beyond treatment,” Novartis said in an e-mailed statement today.

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