ZURICH (Reuters) – Roche aims to defend its multiple sclerosis (MS) franchise from rivals Novartis and Sanofi with new studies of its $4 billion-per-year Ocrevus product and advanced trials of an experimental medicine, fenebrutinib.

The Swiss drugmaker is testing higher-dose Ocrevus against relapsing MS (RMS) and primary progressive MS (PPMS), while also studying the medicine for minority populations, it said in a statement on Wednesday. It has also started a late-stage clinical trial for fenebrutinib against RMS and PPMS.

Roche is seeking to defend ground gained in treating MS since winning approval for Ocrevus three years ago as Novartis moves in with Kesimpta, a B-cell inhibitor that works similarly but can be injected by patients at home rather than at an infusion clinic, as is required for Ocrevus.

With fenebrutinib, also designed to inhibit production of B-cells that attack the nervous system, Roche is going up against Sanofi, whose experimental drug SAR442168 reduced disease activity in a mid-stage trial against relapsing MS.

“We remain committed to advancing the science in MS by investigating potential new medicines such as fenebrutinib, with the ultimate goal of halting progression of this disease,” said Roche Chief Medical Officer Levi Garraway, who said that 170,000 patients so far have got Ocrevus.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Swiss drugmaker Roche is seen at its headquarters in Basel, Switzerland January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

According to Roche’s latest pipeline update, the company does not expect to file fenebrutinib for regulatory approval until after 2023, should trials prove successful.


Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields

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