Biogen abandons neuroscience drug programs in uncertain future


Investors are eager to see how Biogen plans to make up for lost revenue. But for now, the company seems focused on downsizing. On Wednesday, the company said its experimental schizophrenia drug was ineffective in a mid-stage clinical trial. The drug, which Biogen acquired from Pfizer for $75 million upfront in 2018, was once expected to hit more than $1 billion in annual sales if approved.

The company also quietly removed early-stage drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, from its pipeline on Wednesday. Biogen confirmed to The Globe that those programs were discontinued this year. And earlier this year it stopped developing another early-stage drug for ALS, as well as a drug for multiple sclerosis.

Although years away from potential commercialization, the elimination of these therapies clouds Biogen’s long-term plans to bring new drugs to market.

The Alzheimer’s therapy that Biogen dropped was an antibody designed to remove proteins called tau from the brain. Many neuroscientists hope that anti-tau therapies will hold more promise than anti-amyloid therapies such as lecanemab, an experimental drug from Aduhelm and Biogen. Biogen continues to move forward with a different drug designed to lower tau.

The two ALS therapies that Biogen dropped once excited scientists because they were based on genetic and molecular clues about the root causes of the disease. And the company’s discontinued pill for multiple sclerosis was part of a promising but highly experimental class of drugs designed to restore the protective covering of brain cells, known as the myelin sheath. Other groups are working on similar therapies, and if they prove effective, they could provide a long-awaited cure for the disease.

On the call with investors, chief executive Michel Vounatsos said “there is an inherent risk in neuroscience.” Vounatsos, who announced in May that he would step down once a successor was found, did not provide updates on the search.

Also in May, the company announced that it would dismantle its Aduhelm business division and institute other “cost-cutting measures” to save the company about $1 billion. Biogen reported only $100,000 in Aduhelm sales in the second quarter, despite costs of $100 million in the same period regarding its commercialization and the subsequent elimination of its sales infrastructure for the drug. The company declined to say how many employees were laid off.

Further adding to Biogen’s troubles, the company reached a $900 million settlement in a lawsuit filed by a former company sales representative. The whistleblower said Biogen illegally bribes doctors and other medical professionals for fictitious consulting and speaker fees intended to bolster sales of its multiple sclerosis drugs. Biogen admitted no wrongdoing.

Ryan Cross can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RLCscienceboss.

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