Within a four-day span before the companies notified the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the problem, three Biogen executives sold stock.

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BOSTON — The withdrawal of a new multiple-sclerosis (MS) drug has brought scrutiny to millions of dollars in insider stock sales at Biogen Idec and executive bonuses awarded before the company disclosed a death and illness that led to pulling the drug from the market.

The stock transactions — one of them the same day Biogen notified federal regulators about the problems — came before Monday’s withdrawal of Tysabri wiped out a total $17.8 billion in shareholder equity in a single day for the Cambridge, Mass., company and its Irish partner, Elan.

The two biotechnology companies had enjoyed surging share prices the past year on high expectations for their jointly developed drug.

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Within a four-day span before the companies notified the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the problem, three Biogen executives sold stock.

That notification occurred Feb. 18 — the same day Thomas Bucknum, a Biogen executive vice president and the company’s general counsel, sold 89,700 shares for a profit of $1.9 million, according to Biogen’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Bucknum’s gain reflected the rise in share values since the options were granted starting in 1998.

Bucknum also was awarded new options on 55,000 shares Feb. 17, the day Biogen’s board approved a committee recommendation granting executives cash bonuses totaling $4.6 million based on last year’s performance.

Biogen Executive Chairman William Rastetter sold more than 120,000 shares Feb. 15, yielding a $7.45 million profit, the filings show. The day before that, Biogen director Robert Pangia sold 15,570 shares for a profit of $954,844.

Walter Ricciardi, head of the SEC’s Boston office, declined to comment yesterday, citing agency policy not to discuss what his office may or may not investigate.

Biogen spokesman José Juves said the stock transactions were planned before the company learned of Tysabri’s problems and notified FDA.

“All these trades preceded that quick and decisive action, which was guided exclusively by concern for patient safety and our commitment to the MS community,” Juves said.

“No one waited around to inform the FDA, and the trading window was immediately shut as soon as the senior management became aware of the safety issue,” Juves said.

After the company notified the FDA of two cases of serious effects in patients, one patient died from a rare and frequently fatal disease of the central nervous system.

Another patient, with a suspected case of the same illness, survived.

Monday’s withdrawal of Tysabri and suspension of clinical tests came 10 days after the companies notified FDA.

Biogen shares lost more than 42 percent of their value Monday, while Elan’s stock fell 70 percent.

Yesterday, both stocks recovered slightly, with Biogen shares rising $2.54, or 6.6 percent, to $41.19, and Elan rising 1 cent to $7.99.

Regardless of Biogen’s statement that executives were unaware of Tysabri’s problems before their stock transactions, W. Michael Hoffman, executive director of Bentley College’s Center for Business Ethics, said he found it “suspiciously coincidental that they would be selling these shares almost on the eve of this occurring with the FDA.”

Corporate America faces increased scrutiny of insider stock sales in advance of bad news because of revelations at companies like Enron.

Some executives at the energy trader were accused of dumping stock days before Enron went bankrupt.

Such sales “have not only been considered illegal in terms of insider trading, but are not building up the trust in the corporations the executives are overseeing,” Hoffman said.

Until Monday, Biogen’s portfolio of cancer and autoimmune disease treatments made the company one of the top-performing biotechnology stocks during the past decade.

Biogen and Elan continue to hold out hope Tysabri may eventually return to the market if it can be proved safe.

The drug, which won FDA approval in late November, accounted for $3 million in sales for Biogen in the final weeks of 2004. Tysabri had been widely forecast to reach $1.5 billion in annual sales by 2007 and continue growing in coming years.

Biogen and Elan are left for now to rely on other medications in their portfolios.

Biogen’s Avonex is a 9-year-old MS treatment that accounted for nearly two-thirds of the $2.2 billion in revenue last year at the world’s third-largest biotech company.

While Avonex will likely pick up some of the sales lost from Tysabri’s withdrawal, the newer drug “was Biogen’s growth engine,” said Jason Kantor, an analyst with WR Hambrecht.

“Now, the prospects for it are zero until we hear otherwise,” Kantor said.