Biogen Idec says death of patient who took its new MS pill is “likely unrelated” to the medication

Biotechnology company Biogen Idec Inc. said Monday it was investigating the death of a patient who took its new multiple sclerosis pill, Tecfidera. But the Weston company said the death was “likely unrelated” to the medication, based on its preliminary findings.

Biogen Idec spokeswoman Kate Niazi-Sai said company safety officials learned late last week that a 59-year-old woman who had taken Tecfidera for five and a half weeks died two and a half weeks after she stopped taking the pill. Niazi-Sai said the patient discontinued Tecfidera because of gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

But the cause of death was bilateral pneumonia, a condition that occurs more frequently in multiple sclerosis patients than in the general public, according to Niazi-Sai. Gastrointestinal issues apparently did not cause the death, the Biogen Idec spokeswoman said.

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In a note to investors, biotechnology analyst Mark Schoenebaum of ISI Group in New York described the event as a “non-issue” for Biogen Idec. Company shares, after briefly dropping in early afternoon Monday, closed up 0.6 percent at $231.67 on the Nasdaq exchange.