LONDON, May 25 (Reuters) - Belgian drugmaker UCB is to test its rheumatoid arthritis drug Cimz
ia in a head-to-head clinical trial against Abbott's Humira, as competition heats up in the market.
Humira, which racked up global sales of $6.5 billion last year, has become the drug to beat in treating the crippling disease, with consensus forecasts suggesting its sales will reach $9.2 billion by 2014, according to Thomson Reuters Pharma.
Cimzia, with sales of 198 million euros ($279 million) last year and expected revenue of $1.2 billion by 2014, has a long way to go to catch up. UCB hopes the new trial will persuade doctors and patients of the merits of its medicine.
Head-to-head clinical trials by drug companies are becoming more common as manufacturers strive to differentiate their products. But they carry risks, since the results do not always come out as the company financing the test would like.
UCB said on Wednesday the new trial -- the first industry sponsored head-to-head study of two so-called anti-TNF drugs -- would evaluate the two injectable products based upon clinical response after 12 weeks.
It will randomise patients to either Cimzia plus the older drug methotrexate (MTX) or Humira plus MTX, after which patients who respond will continue on their treatment whereas non-responders will switch to the alternative treatment arm until the study ends at 104 weeks.
The worldwide study, which was announced on the first day of the European League Against Rheumatisim (EULAR) annual meeting, will recruit patients with moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis who have inadequately responded to MTX and who have not previously received anti-TNF treatment.
TNF inhibitors block a protein called tumour necrosis factor associated with inflammation. Other blockbuster drugs in the increasingly crowded category include Johnson & Johnson's Remicade and Amgen's Enbrel.
Pfizer, meanwhile, is developing a novel drug called tofacitinib that is given as a pill rather than an injection, which could threaten sales of the established anti-TNF class.
(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Andrew Callus)
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