How Biogen Makes Most of Its Cash

Published: Jul 17, 2017

How Biogen Makes Most of Its Cash July 14, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Cambridge, Mass.-based Biogen is an ambitious company, but not necessarily in the way that makes investors and analysts happy. Its ambitions often take the shape of high-risk-high-reward projects, such as its Alzheimer’s pipeline. If successful, these are drugs that could hit $10 billion in annual sales.

But the key word is “if” because Phase III trials are where Alzheimer’s drugs usually go to die, and there won’t be any word on Biogen’s aducanumab and E2609 until 2020.

Brian Orelli, writing for The Motley Fool, takes a dive into where Biogen’s considerable revenue comes from and what its strengths and weaknesses are.

Most of its money comes from its multiple sclerosis (MS) portfolio. In the first quarter of this year, the company reported $2.38 billion in product revenue, and 40 percent of it came from its top MS drug Tecfidera. The drug was approved in the U.S. in 2013, and quickly blew past the company’s other MS drugs Avonex and Tysabri. But in the U.S., sales have slowed and are probably not going to grow, although worldwide it’s still improving.

Orelli writes, “It should be noted that Biogen’s anti-CD20 drugs, Rituxan and Gazyva, combined for $1.04 billion of sales, besting Tecfidera. However, the company shares revenue on those two drugs with Roche , so Biogen only got $323.5 million of the $839.7 million in pre-tax profits from the collaboration. Biogen records that revenue, which is pure profit, below the product revenue line.”

With the company’s MS market facing steady competition in the U.S. and out, investors have urged the company to diversify. There’s always speculation that Biogen will buy some rival or be bought, but so far the company’s remained resistant to big deals. It did, however, ink a deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb in April for BMS-986168, an antibody that targets extracellular tau, for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders such as progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP).

And earlier in this year Biogen’s Spinraza (nusinersen) was approved for infants with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Orelli notes that this can help with diversification, and that in the first quarter sales in the U.S. it brought in $47 million, which is a pretty decent start.

That’s good, but another example of the company swinging for the fences—and missing—was last year’s failure of opicinumab (anti-LINGO-1) to repair nerve damage caused by MS. If it had succeeded, it might have revolutionized MS care, but unfortunately it died in a Phase II trial. Although at the time, the company did say that “evidence of a clinical effect with a complex, unexpected dose-response was observed,” even if there was no indication what it was or if they planned to pursue it.

Orelli notes, “Biogen might find that licensing drugs could be a quicker way to restock its late-stage pipeline. The company ends the first quarter with $5.7 billion in the bank, which isn’t all that much compared to its big biotech brethren—Gilead Sciences (GILD) ended the first quarter with $34 billion—so a few licensing deals would probably make more sense than one outright acquisition.”

Orelli points out that until data is released on its Alzheimer’s drug trials, the company’s stock will be dependent on how it does in the MS market and on how well it can diversify. “That could result in the company treading water, as the stock price has basically done over the last two years. Since there’s no dividend to pay them to wait for better times ahead, risk-averse investors would be better off waiting for signs of success. You’ll miss some upside, but avoid the risk of investing in a market-trailing performer if management can’t execute,” he writes.

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