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Serono's Global Ambitions

Executive Summary

Serono, Europe's biggest biotechnology company, is nearly one hundred years old. Recently, the company has been on a quest to establish a public image quite different from that of a traditional, family-owned pharmaceutical group. Driving Serono into the public eye is Ernesto Bertarelli, who took the helm from his father in 1996. The structural changes he brought about provided the framework for modernization. But Serono still has to make its mark in the US, where the most important determinant of success will be the timing of its launch of Rebif, its multiple sclerosis drug.

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Biogen Defends its Specialist Market

Biogen quickly became the leader in the multiple sclerosis market, growing Avonex into a billion-dollar drug. Now Biogen's dominance is being challenged by Serono and its new partner Pfizer, co-promoting another interferon, Rebif, which came to market with head-to-head data showing it's better. Biogen maintains that Avonex is the best treatment, and is working to support its contention. The biotech is confident that the relationships it has built over time, and strengthened through services, will be hard for newcomers to push aside. The potential for leverage is what attracts Pfizer to this specialist market: it aims to sell Rebif broadly. Its 300 neurology sales reps will carry other products for the co-morbidities MS patients suffer--so the ROI could be good, even if Rebif itself isn't a huge seller. An industry whose pipeline is far richer in niche than GP products will be watching this marketing battle: will Biogen's focus carry the day--or can Pfizer turn a late-entry specialist product into a market leader and in the process, make significant money for itself?

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