Analysts Say Biogen Idec, Inc. (Massachusetts) Must Push Into Gene Therapy To Stay Competitive

Published: Sep 23, 2014

Analysts Say Biogen Idec Inc. (BIIB) Must Push Into Gene Therapy To Stay Competitive

September 23, 2014

By Riley McDermid, Breaking News Sr. Editor

Biogen Idec Inc. needs to step up its push into the gene therapy arena for hemophiliacs if it wants to stay competitive in a field crowded with innovators, said analysts for Piper Jaffray on Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning BIIB announced the addition of a Senior VP of Gene Therapy to accelerate development of a 'world-class' gene therapy platform. Analysts Joshua Schimmer and Jerry Yang said the move is an important direction for the company considering that next year, there could be as many as six or seven gene therapy products for hemophilia.

“While investor attention has been on BIIB's long-acting factor replacement, its competitors in the hemophilia space have already partnered up with their own gene therapy programs which could be disruptive to the field,” they wrote. “There are still a number of unpartnered hemophilia gene therapy programs; we wouldn't be surprised if BIIB moved to in-license one of them over the next year.”

As a result, Piper Jaffray reiterated its overweight rating on the stock. Still, Biogen could be seen as extending its efforts as a possible defense against competitors.

“BIIB already has an agreement in place with SGMO for some of its zn-finger based programs, but there is plenty of room to expand. BIIB is in the middle of the range of vulnerability to gene therapy programs amongst larger cap biotech companies,” wrote Yang and Schimmer. “While its core MS franchise faces little in the way of disruptive gene therapy threats, its hemophilia and even Rituxan (via CAR-T programs) franchises may be vulnerable. It remains to be seen which direction BIIB takes its gene therapy efforts, but there is plenty of emerging opportunity in the field which we see as attractive.”

The two said they are “fairly underwhelmed” with Biogen’s current speculative mid-stage pipeline which is full of “high-risk programs” like anti-Lingo and anti-amyloid, and is not populated by enough programs for which “proof of concept” has been established.

“If BIIB moves swiftly, it may be able to partly offset its risk profile by improving the caliber of its pipeline by in-licensing gene therapy assets and advancing its own internal candidates into preclinical testing,” they concluded.

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