Novartis, Merck KGaA see opportunity in select pockets of MS patients

How Novartis, Merck KgGA, are staking territory in the increasingly crowded MS landscape

As companies continue to pile into the multiple sclerosis market with new therapies, Novartis and Merck KGaA are dissecting the landscape to define populations for their newly launched drugs. While the former is staking out territory in advanced forms of the disease, the latter is hoping to gain uptake among patients who don’t respond to available therapies.

Although oral therapies have changed the outlook for newly diagnosed patients, about 80% of those with the mildest form, relapsing remitting MS (RRMS), will eventually progress to active secondary progressive MS (SPMS), a more severe form of the disease in which relapses are coupled with marked progression to disability.

That percentage may change with the growth of Ocrevus ocrelizumab, an infused therapy from Roche (SIX:ROG; OTCQX:RHHBY) that has raised the bar on efficacy. Other injectables and orals coming to market will likely disrupt the landscape further (see “Deciding Factors in the Shifting MS Treatment Landscape”).

Still, the number of patients with advanced forms of MS represents a sizable market for Novartis AG (NYSE:NVS; SIX:NOVN) to carve a niche, and Merck KGaA (Xetra:MRK) plans to fill a need among patients who don’t respond to initial treatment with Ocrevus or its competitors.

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