Company news: AstraZeneca, Genzyme, BioGen Idec, WebMD

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Former AstraZeneca innovation officer Paulo Machado has been named chief commercial officer for the digital health startup United Preference, reported MobiHealth News. Machado, whose LinkedIn summary says he wants to be “a leader in the US Healthcare renaissance,” is now an executive at a startup that has already landed a BlueCross BlueShield licensee as a client as well as a Fortune 500 company.

Three UK neurologists have written Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt about Genzyme's move to get an MS indication for leukemia drug Campath (alemtuzumab), reported UK paper The Independent. Doctors have been using the drug off-label for MS patients, but Genzyme's move for the indication has caused concern among specialists for patients in the middle of off-label MS treatment. The Independent reported that Genzyme has withdrawn the drug while it conducts clinical trials for the new indication. The doctors said this created a treatment gap that could put MS patients at risk for  “progressive, severe disability.” The neurologists also objected to an expected price increase, and wrote that an MS-indicated Lemtrada could cost between 15% and 20% more than what is currently being used in an off-label capacity. Reuters noted in an August report that one forecast estimated that an approved Lemtrada could have sales of around $400 million by 2018, whereas Campath sales were $76 million for 2011. Genzyme is pursuing an MS indication for Lemtrada in the US. In September it changed the distribution channel through which doctors could access Campath.

The FDA has said it wants more time to review Biogen Idec's experimental oral MS drug, BG-12. The government agency is now set to discuss the drug in March – a three month delay. The drug appears to have a lot of front-loaded goodwill, and Credit Suisse analyst Michael Faerm noted in his Thursday research note that the FDA's neurology division often requests more time to wade through data. As examples, Faerm noted that the FDA pushed back the review date for Novartis' Gilenya from June 2010 to September 2010 and that it pushed back its consideration of Sanofi's MS pill Aubagio from June 2012 to September 2012.

WebMD launched a medical Q&A feature which allows users to get answers from experts. The company has also linked up with organizations including the American Cancer Society, Betty Ford Center and the Centers for Disease Control which will also use the WebMD Answers feature to respond to queries.
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