UPDATE December 12th -
Biotechnology firm Elan Corp. said Friday it is closing its offices in New York and Tokyo during the first quarter as it realigns operations.
Elan said it will eliminate an unspecified number of positions and revise its marketing activities for Tysabri as a treatment for Crohn's disease.
Elan said it will direct additional capital toward research and development. Elan is transitioning from a traditional sales model to one based on clinical support and education, the company said in a statement.
First, about the drug: Tysabri is an antibody, a protein that triggers specific reactions from the body's immune system. Doctors think it helps some people with MS or Crohn's because of way it interacts with natural chemical markers on the surface of cells affected by the diseases. The same markers are found on the myeloma cells that Mr. Baron has, so doctors think the drug may help treat that cancer.
The issue: Dallas lawyer and Democratic Party fundraiser Fred Baron is dying of cancer -- and fighting a drug company for use of an experimental medication, according to his son, Andrew Baron.
Mr. Baron's family says it has enlisted some famous names to lobby on his behalf: Lance Armstrong, the bicyclist and cancer survivor; Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton; Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass; and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who has brain cancer.
No one can accuse Biogen Idec of playing favorites. The company has been under assault by luminaries from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Lance Armstrong, who are trying to get Biogen's Tysabri drug for Fred Baron, a legal bigwig who's dying of multiple myeloma. Tysabri is in Phase I testing in multiple myeloma patients. But Baron doesn't meet the trial criteria. And Biogen has an ironclad policy of refusing the med for so-called "compassionate use."
Biogen's reasoning is rooted in Tysabri's complex biography. As you all know, the drug was hailed as a major breakthrough for multiple sclerosis patients after its first launch, but then was pulled off the market in February 2005 because of links to a potentially fatal brain infection, PML. The drug was reintroduced in 2006 under a restrictive access program. Since then, Tysabri has won a broader market, with an approval to treat Crohn's disease. It's also seen a couple of new cases of PML in Europe; those cases were added to Tysabri's labeling.
Biogen CEO Jim Mullen has held up under the assault of publicity ginned up on Baron's behalf. Calls from the likes of Armstrong, Ted Kennedy, the Clintons, John Kerry and Henry Waxman haven't swayed him. The company doesn't want to set a precedent by allowing Baron to use Tysabri, given the PML risks--and the risk to Tysabri's future should Baron experience an adverse reaction. "We want to protect access for patients who are on the drug now and rely on it," a Biogen spokeswoman told Pharmalot. "We feel like we can't make an exception in this case."