- Biogen is a biotech company best known for its drugs focused on multiple sclerosis.
- But new CEO Christopher Viehbacher said he sees Alzheimer’s becoming a new franchise.
- He added that the antidepressant zuranolone is the company’s “biggest undervalued potential.”
Hot on the heels of the approval of a new drug for Alzheimer’s disease, Cambridge-based biotech company Biogen appears focused on expanding its reach to a wider range of diseases.
While Biogen is best known for its treatments for multiple sclerosis, the company’s new CEO, Christopher Viehbacher, said in an investor presentation on Monday that the narrow focus has become a “melting iceberg” for Biogen.
Viehbacher said that as he returns the company to sustainable growth, he is focusing on two “flagship products” that will help fuel that momentum. He spoke at the JP Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco.
Lecanemab, a new drug for Alzheimer’s disease, could signal a new franchise
The first is lecanemab, an Alzheimer’s drug that won fast-track approval from the US Food and Drug Administration last week. The drug, which will be sold under the brand name Leqembi, was developed with Japanese pharmaceutical company Eisai. In trials, the drug slowed the rate of cognitive decline by 27% in patients with Alzheimer’s disease over the course of 18 months. The drug is intended to treat people in the early stages of the disease.
Cowen analysts said in a September 2022 note that Leqembi could regain around 11% of the Alzheimer’s disease market three years after its launch, generating around $4.3 billion in sales in the United States.
“I actually see Alzheimer’s becoming a franchise for us,” Viehbacher said. “So with our partners, they say, it’s not just about the launch of lecanemab, as important as that is. We have two other assets in development. There’s an awful lot of studies that can be done as well for grow this franchise.”
New type of depression drug has ‘greatest undervalued potential’
The second key drug, according to Viehbacher, is zuranolone, a treatment Biogen has developed in conjunction with Sage Therapeutics for major depressive disorder and postpartum depression.
Zuranolone could become one of the few new antidepressants to hit the market in decades. It is a fast-acting treatment given over two weeks, which sets it apart from other depression medications that are taken continuously.
In December, the two companies completed their application asking the FDA to approve the drug. The FDA could decide on the treatment as early as the third quarter of this year, Biogen said.
“I think zuranolone is Biogen’s greatest undervalued potential,” Viehbacher said.
He added that the demand for mental health treatments is huge and that while selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant, have been helpful, they have failed to solve all the problems. .
“When I look at the predictions for the product, I think it’s extremely undervalued,” he added.
Although Viehbacher said he doesn’t plan to make any “radical left turns” at Biogen, he said he is focused on expanding the company’s openness – both through new drugs such as lecanemab and zuranolone as well as through research. Viehbacher became CEO in November after a long career at GlaxoSmithKline and six years as CEO of Sanofi.
Viehbacher said that while new drug development will fuel Biogen over the next three to five years, research will fuel growth over the next five to 15 years.
“I wanted the research to be a bit disconnected or uncluttered by where our business is today and to be able to pursue the science in a bit of a broader way,” he said. “Through research, I think over time we can actually build a pipeline that’s a bit broader than just pure neurology.”