(Corrects 7th paragraph to show Novartis could file BAF312 with
regulators in H1 2017, from expects H1 2017 approval)
March 28 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) on Tuesday approved Roche Holding AG's multiple
sclerosis (MS) drug Ocrevus, putting the potential blockbuster
drug back on track after a delay caused by regulators' concerns
over manufacturing issues.
The infusible drug, known chemically as ocrelizumab, becomes
the first U.S.-approved medicine for the primary progressive
form of the neurological disease (PPMS). It is also approved to
treat the most common form of the disease, known as
relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS).
Roche said Ocrevus will be available to people in the United
States within two weeks.
The drug's entry into the U.S. market was delayed by three
months when the FDA in late December pushed back its deadline
for an approval decision, saying the commercial manufacturing
process for Ocrevus was not yet ready.
Ocrevus, an immunosuppressive drug that reduces the immune
system's assault on the body's own neurons, could become a
mainstay treatment for MS and help offset falling revenue from
Roche's top-selling cancer drugs Rituxan, Avastin and Herceptin,
that will soon face competition from cheaper biosimilar
Analysts forecast annual sales exceeding $3 billion by 2021,
according to Reuters data.
Roche rival Novartis AG is also developing its own
MS treatment, BAF312, for secondary progressive multiple
sclerosis. It could file for regulatory approval in the first
half of 2017, Novartis has said, although the official filing
target for BAF312 remains 2019.
Other companies are also seeking new drug alternatives for
different forms of MS, including GeNeuro SA.
The most popular MS treatment in the United States currently
is Copaxone, made by Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd
Roche said in the PPMS study that patients who took Ocrevus
were 47 percent more likely than those who received a placebo to
show no evidence of disease progression.
The company said its trials among RRMS patients showed 75
percent more patients reached "no evidence of disease activity"
status when taking Ocrevus compared with those using Merck & Co
Inc's Rebif, an older therapy.
The drug's path to approval has not been straightforward.
In 2010, Roche and Biogen Inc suspended trials of
the biotech medicine against rheumatoid arthritis after patients
died from fatal opportunistic infections. Trials were also
suspended for lupus nephritis patients.
Against multiple sclerosis, however, Roche has said the
fatal side effect was not repeated. Infusion-related reactions
were among the main adverse side effects seen in MS trials.
(Reporting by John Miller in Zurich and Akankshita Mukhopadhyay
in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Bill Berkrot in New York;
Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Bill Rigby)