Biogen Poaches Star Pfizer Scientist as New R&D Chief

Biogen Poaches Star Pfizer Scientist as New R&D Chief April 27, 2016
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Biogen Inc. poached Pfizer ’s Michael Ehlers as the company’s new executive vice president of research and development, the company announced this morning.

Ehlers will oversee the company’s global research, drug discovery, clinical development and medical affairs functions, Biogen said. In his role, he will lead efforts to develop therapies for patients with few or no treatment options. Ehlers is expected to begin his tenure at the company in May.

George Scangos, chief executive officer of Biogen, called Ehlers an established R&D leader who has “demonstrated the ability to translate science into important new medicines.”

Scangos said Biogen conducted a global search for the executive team position. The ideal candidate, it turns out, was right down the road operating in rival Pfizer. Ehlers had overseen the consolidation of Pfizer’s Cambridge properties under one roof in Kendall Square.

“As our understanding of human biology advances at an incredible pace, I am confident that Mike will keep Biogen at the forefront of discovery and enhance our ability to transform our research into treatments that make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients,” Scangos said in a statement.

Before his six-year tenure with Pfizer, Ehlers was the George Barth Geller Professor of Neurobiology and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Duke University Medical Center, where he pioneered studies on neuronal organelles and the trafficking of neurotransmitter receptors. At Pfizer, he served as a senior vice president for BioTherapeutics R&D and chief scientific officer for the company’s Neuroscience and Pain Research Unit.

Ehlers touted Biogen’s work to develop therapies for critical health issues in neurodegenerative and rare diseases. He said he looked forward to joining the company and work to “convert groundbreaking science into meaningful treatments for people with life-altering diseases.”

Scangos told Bloomberg that despite slowing sales of Tecfidera, Biogen’s top drug, and lower than typical R&D spending, he anticipates the company to up its R&D funds. He said the company is being careful of its costs in order to expand R&D spending that will bring added value to the company.

Some of the areas Ehlers is bound to work with is Alzheimer’s disease research, an area Biogen has heavily concentrated its resources, particularly around its drug, aducanumab. A year ago in April, Biogen announced its drug BIIB037, or aducanumab, led to reductions in brain amyloid plaque by as much as 71 percent. The plaque reduction was more pronounced as the dose of the drug increased and over time and Biogen also announced the drug was able to reduce cognitive decline. Some researchers believe buildup of amyloid plaque in the brain is a direct link to Alzheimer’s.

Ehlers will take over a spot that has been vacant since Doug Williams left Biogen to launch his own company, Codiak Biosciences, Inc., a company focused on developing exosome-based therapies and products.

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