TORONTO: Biogen Idec has expanded its relationship with Hill & Knowlton into Canada as the biotech company answers questions about the safety of its multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri.
Biogen Idec, which markets Tysabri with Elan Corp., suspended sales of the drug in February 2005 after it was linked to three brain and spinal cord infections, two of which were fatal. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee last week recommended that the drug be brought back to market.
H&K Canada will provide communications support there for Biogen Idec's MS portfolio, which includes both Tysabri and Avonex. Tysabri is not yet approved in Canada.
"We're providing communications support for the company in the pre-launch phase," said Celeste Brown, VP at H&K Canada. She noted that the Canadian team is closely watching the FDA's decision on Tysabri to formulate its communications strategy, "then we'll get the gears in motion."
She added, "The US is obviously more prominent [in the outreach effort]. The focus is really on the US at this point."
H&K already handles US and global communications for the MS portfolio. Biogen Idec and a representative from H&K's New York office did not immediately return calls for comment.
The company has created an information center on its website with information for both MS patients and the media. It has also set up a 1-800 number with MS support specialists.
It is stressing that it launched a "comprehensive patient evaluation" of Tysabri that was supported by a study in The New England Journal of Medicine.
For Avonex, H&K Canada will be enlisting patient support, particularly from women, who are three times more likely to develop MS than men.
"Patients have come forward and asked if they can tell their story; they want to be their own advocates," Brown said.
H&K will also work with patient groups such as the MS Society of Canada on an educational effort.
The agency won the business in a separate competitive pitch from the NY office.