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, one of the few profitable biotech companies, said Tuesday that third-quarter earnings rose 13%, slighly more than expected, pushed by rising U.S. sales of Avonex, a leading multiple sclerosis drug.

Biogen said earnings per share rose to 44 cents a share from 39 cents a share a year ago. The consensus analyst forcast for the Cambridge, Mass., biotech company was 43 cents a share, according to

First Call/Thomson Financial


The company also delivered a mixed forecast for its fourth quarter and next year. Biogen said in a postearnings conference call that it expects to report 2000 operating earnings of around $1.70 a share, in line with analysts' forecasts. But the company also warned that the U.S. market is slowing for Avonex. "The market growth slowed down a little quicker than we expected," said one official on the call.

Net income rose 10% to $68.3 million. Revenue rose 12% to $233.7 million, with Avonex sales rising 18% to $193 million.

Avonex, which generated 78% of Biogen's 1999 revenue of $794.4 million, is facing increasing pressure in the European multiple sclerosis treatment market from Rebif, made by Switzerland's



, and Betaseron, which is marketed by

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and Germany's


. Sales in Europe, where Avonex holds about 35% of the market, rose 14% to $55 million.

But sales in the U.S., where Avonex is protected from competition until 2003, rose 19% to $138 million. The drug has about half the domestic MS market.

In response to worries about Avonex competition, Biogen is stepping up efforts to develop other products including Amevive for psoriasis, while seeking to broaden Avonex use in the multiple sclerosis market, particularly for early stages. It has also executed alliances with companies including




"The positive results seen in primary progressive MS, a very aggressive form of the disease, are very encouraging," said Biogen in a release.

Biogen shares have fallen from a high of 129 in March at the height of the biotech bull market to close at 51 Tuesday, partly pushed down by worries over competition to Avonex.