Novartis’ Multiple Sclerosis Pill Slowed Brain Loss in Study

Novartis AG said its Gilenya drug to treat multiple sclerosis helped slow brain loss, a measure linked to the severity of the disease.

Patients taking Gilenya in three large Novartis-led studies lost a third less brain volume than patients taking either a placebo or Biogen Idec Inc.’s Avonex, Novartis said in an e-mailed statement today.

Gilenya was approved in the U.S. in 2010 as the first oral treatment for multiple sclerosis, and cleared for sale in Europe in March 2011. The data may help it beat competition from Sanofi’s oral drug Aubagio, which was brought to market last November, Gordon Francis, who heads Novartis’ clinical science unit for inflammation, said in an interview.

“If I asked you if you’d rather have more brain or less brain, you’d probably say more”, Francis said.

Loss of brain volume is correlated with both the activity and severity of the disease, Francis said.

The results relied on an analysis of data gathered from 3,600 patients with the relapsing form of the disease, and were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in San Diego.