Cambridge’s Biogen Idec got government approval today to sell its second multiple sclerosis drug, as interested readers can see from this numbing press release.
What could have been cause for rejoicing or relief, however, is tainted by the cancerous growth of health care costs in this country.
The company claims the best medical results come from combining the drug with its older MS drug, Avonex — in fact, patients in a study had 54 percent fewer relapses than those taking only Avonex. Is it cynical to wonder how much trouble it would have been to combine the active ingredients into one dose, rather than selling them separately for twice the money?
Avonex is the No. 1 multiple sclerosis drug in sales. That means the success of the new drug would have cannibalized its success, and its profits.
The most gracious interpretation is that the company is merely getting a drug to market as soon as possible and will combine it with Avonex later to better, more cheaply serve a needy community.
There would be a bonus: Biogen Idec would get the chance to name the combined drug replacing its two predecessors.
This is good because the new drug is named Tysabri, which stands out against a sea of names that, while meaningless, at least suggest a sense of health or progress — the Claritins, Viagras and even Avonexes of the world (as well as meaningless car names such as Elantra, Alero and Altima). “Tysabri” suggests nothing, except possibly a contest in which Biogen Idec employees can win more vacation time for coming up with a better name.
Science marches on, and so does commerce. Apparently they forgot to tell marketing they were leaving.