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Genzyme talks up new MS drug

Biotech says sales could reach $3.5b

By Robert Weisman
Globe Staff / December 21, 2010

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Genzyme Corp. executives told investors and stock analysts yesterday that the multiple sclerosis treatment the Cambridge company is developing could become its best-selling product later this decade, generating $3 billion to $3.5 billion in annual sales.

The market forecast for the drug — called alemtuzumab — was based on market research; consultations with patients, physicians, and health insurers; and independent analysis, according to Genzyme.

“Alemtuzumab for multiple sclerosis is probably the largest single program that we’ve ever undertaken,’’ chief executive Henri A. Termeer told a gathering of investors in New York.

The event was part of the war of nerves that has been escalating between Genzyme and Sanofi Aventis SA since the French drug maker launched a $69-a-share hostile tender offer this fall. Genzyme’s board rejected the $18.5 billion bid, saying it undervalued the biotechnology company. The offer was extended to Jan. 21 last week after the initial timeline expired and Sanofi admitted only 0.9 percent of Genzyme shares had been turned over.

Sanofi officials yesterday said they would have no comment on Genzyme’s forecast for alemtuzumab. Shares of Genzyme edged down 14 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $69.65 on the Nasdaq exchange.

One of the key points of contention in the debate over how much Genzyme is worth is the value of its drug pipeline, led by alemtuzumab. Genzyme plans to seek regulatory approval in early 2012 to market the treatment in the United States and Europe. Sanofi executives have said they believe the drug will have only modest success in a multiple sclerosis market that is already served by multiple drugs, with several more in development.

Genzyme, however, said sales of alemtuzumab could quickly overtake those of its current best-selling drug, Cerezyme, which treats Gaucher disease. The company projects sales of Cerezyme will total between $725 million and $775 million this year. Cerezyme sales reached $1.2 billion in 2008 before the company was stymied by supply constraints caused by viral contamination at its Allston Landing plant.

Termeer and other Genzyme officials yesterday said alemtuzumab has the potential to transform the standard of care for multiple sclerosis patients by slowing the progression of the disease and reducing relapses. Genzyme currently markets another version of the drug under the name Campath to treat patients with a type of leukemia.

“This is a unique therapy,’’ Termeer said. “It is not a pill on a shelf. It is a therapy that changes the standard of care of the [MS] patients.’’

Termeer also noted that the overall market for multiple sclerosis is $14 billion, and Genzyme executives said their research showed there is significant demand for new treatment options. Alemtuzumab, they said, is more effective, convenient, and easier for patients to tolerate than drugs now on the market.

With Genzyme and Sanofi at odds on what price would trigger serious takeover negotiations, Sanofi has so far resisted a plan being considered by Genzyme to structure a deal to include a “contingent value right.’’ That would give Genzyme investors a bigger return if, after the company is sold, alemtuzumab emerges as a best-selling drug.

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com.