JPM17: New Biogen CEO on Groundbreaking Alzheimer's Trial and the Company's Future

JPM17: New Biogen CEO on Groundbreaking Alzheimer's Trial and the Company's Future January 11, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SAN FRANCISCO – Michel Vounatsos, Biogen ’s new chief executive officer, touted an exciting new future for Alzheimer’s disease patients as he made the rounds at the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

The company came to the conference with a spring in its step after announcing positive data for its experimental Alzheimer’s treatment aducanumab late last year. In December, Biogen investors breathed a sigh of relief on positive news for aducanumab, the company’s experimental drug targeting amyloid plaque in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. While the Phase Ib trial was positive, late-stage data will not be available for a few years and that is where many Alzheimer’s drugs have failed to meet their goals, including the most recent attempt from Eli Lilly .

It will be some time before aducanumab progresses through late-stage trials, which is the period where most Alzheimer’s treatments have failed. But, Biogen’s partner Eisai will announce data on its anti-amyloid antibody BAN2401 within the next year, Endpoints reported.

Vounatsos took over Biogen’s top spot in December, succeeding George Scangos. Scangos announced his intention to retire from Biogen in the summer of 2016. However, Scangos did not stay retired too long and recently joined the startup Vir as its CEO. Before taking over the Biogen helm, Vounatsos served as the company’s chief commercial officer.

While the Alzheimer’s treatment is certainly good news, some companies may have been excited to hear that Vounatsos was interested in exploring possible deals with other companies. In an interview with Bloomberg, Vounatsos said the company’s future will look to bolster its existing pipeline, which he said was very deep, as well as look to make deals for products being developed by other companies. Neuroscience will be the company’s focus as it moves ahead, Vounatsos told Bloomberg.

“We need to be in a position to partner, attract or acquire some molecules or companies to come and complement the core,” Vounatsos said in the video posted on Bloomberg’s website.

When asked if Biogen had any parameters regarding possible acquisitions, Vounatsos said the first parameter will be to ensure the company and financial footing is solid. He said Biogen will be “very rigorous” in how it allocates its capital for possible acquisitions in order to give shareholders the best possible return. Anything the company does will be well thought out and not conducted in haste to make a deal, he said.

Vounatsos said the company will focus on the science of any possible acquisition and not concern itself too much over the financials. In his interview with Bloomberg, Vounatsos did not mention any companies that Biogen could look to for a deal, but indicated the products would need to be complementary to the company’s pipeline.

There is certainly no timeline for Biogen to make any kind of deal and the company will likely look to the launch of tis recently approved spinal muscular atrophy treatment Spinraza. Spinraza (nusinersen) was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 23. Spinraza is the only treatment in the United States approved for SMA, a leading genetic cause of death in infants and toddlers that is marked by progressive, debilitating muscle weakness. Spinraza is an antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) that is designed to alter the splicing of SMN2, a gene that is nearly identical to SMN1. Biogen co-developed Spinraza with Ionis Pharmaceuticals .

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