Cancer Drug from Genentech and Biogen Performs Well in Trial

Genentech and Biogen Idec said their blockbuster Rituxan drug for lymph cancer was highly effective against multiple sclerosis in a small mid-stage trial.

The biotechnology companies said the Phase II trial involved 104 patients with the most common "relapsing-remitting" form of multiple sclerosis -- in which patients have varying levels of recovery and periods of remission between flare-ups of the autoimmune disease.

The patients received either a single treatment course of Rituxan, meaning two infusions separated by two weeks, or placebo. The primary goal of the trial was to show a reduction in inflammatory lesions of the brain, as measured by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

The number of lesions at weeks 12, 16, 20 and 24 was statistically far lower in the Rituxan group. At week 24, the total number of lesions was reduced by 91% -- to an average of 0.5 per patient in the Rituxan-treated group, compared with 5.5 lesions in the placebo arm of the trial.

"In addition, the proportion of patients with relapses over 24 weeks in the Rituxan-treated arm was 14.5% compared to 34.3% in the placebo arm," representing a 58% relative decrease, the drugmakers said in a joint release.