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Idec the Winner in Drug Race


Idec Pharmaceuticals Corp. emerged as the winner in a race to develop the first radioactive drug, as the government Tuesday approved its treatment for advanced non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The drug, called Zevalin, is Idec's second product and expands its franchise in treatments for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the fifth most common type of cancer. Sales of Rituxan, which Idec markets in the United States with Genentech Inc., are expected to near $1 billion this year.

Idec moved decisively ahead of rival Corixa Corp. last fall when a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended Zevalin's approval. The FDA typically follows its experts' advice.

Corixa's Bexxar, meanwhile, has not been scheduled for an advisory panel review.

Zevalin and Corixa's experimental non-Hodgkin's lymphoma drug, Bexxar, target tumor cells and bathe them in radioactivity. The competing drugs use different radioactive materials.

Analysts expect sales of Zevalin to reach $45 million this year. Idec said the drug is aimed at the sickest 25% of patients who don't respond to existing medications, or about 75,000 patients annually.

Idec, based in San Diego, didn't announce a price for the drug. Chief Executive William H. Rastetter said its price would be "modestly higher" than Rituxan, which costs about $15,000 annually. Because the drug is radioactive, it must be administered at facilities with nuclear medicine units. But Idec does not expect that to limit use.

Rastetter said Zevalin, as the first drug to market, would have a sustainable advantage over Bexxar, though a representative of Corixa disputed that.

Corixa and its marketing partner, GlaxoSmithKline, have accused Idec of infringing their patents. Idec is seeking a court ruling that Zevalin does not use others' patents.

Idec shares, down $2.98 to $56.01 in regular Nasdaq trading, rose to $59.72 after-hours, following the news.

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