Meet Biogen's New CEO

Published: Dec 21, 2016

Meet Biogen's New CEO December 19, 2016
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Biogen has a new chief executive officer. Michel Vounatsos, Biogen’s chief commercial officer, will assume the company’s top spot, the company announced Monday afternoon, confirming earlier news reports.

Vounatsos, who joined the company in April as executive vice president and chief commercial officer, will take over for George Scangos, who announced his intention to step down earlier this year. Vounatsos is set to take the reins of the company on Jan. 6. Shares of Biogen fell nearly 3 percent by the end of trading Monday and continued to fall in after-hours trading. Biogen shares closed at $278.77.

The change in leadership comes on the heels of a successful Phase Ib trial for its Alzheimer’s drug, aducanumab. Still, there’s a long way to go with the development of a treatment for the neurodegenerative disease, as many drugs have failed during Phase III testing. While the aducanumab news was good, there are some who believe the change in leadership could signal the company is more open to being acquired by another company. Throughout the fall, there were numerous rumors that Biogen was a target for acquisition. The company has said it is not pursuing a sale.

In a statement issued Monday, Vounatsos said he is excited to build upon the company’s legacy in developing treatments for multiple sclerosis, as well as pursuing “innovative new therapies for those suffering from serious neurologic and neurodegenerative diseases.”

“Our near-term priorities are clear. We intend to gain approval for spinraza to provide the first treatment for spinal muscular atrophy; continue to grow our global MS franchise; fully enroll our phase III trials for aducanumab as we advance our lead candidate in Alzheimer’s disease; reinvigorate our pipeline in the areas of neurology and neuro-repair; and invest in our employees as we work together to define our future,” Vounatsos said in a statement.

Spinraza (nusinersen) is an experimental treatment for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Biogen licensed the drug from Ionis Pharmaceuticals (IONS) in 2013, and has the potential for the broadest possible label expansion for SMA Types 1, 2, and 3 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Because it is an orphan drug for a rare, but fatal disease, if approved it would likely come with a high price tag. Some analysts predict spinraza could generate annual sales of about $2 billion, if it is approved.

Since joining the company in April, Vounatsos has been involved with several key initiatives, including the extension of its multiple sclerosis role, helped expand global markets and “effectively prepared for the introduction of breakthrough treatments for patients in areas of high unmet need,” the company said in its statement.

Before joining Biogen, Vounatsos spent 20 years in various roles at Merck . Most recently he served as president of Merck’s primary care and customer centricity unit. A role he held since January 2014.

Scangos has led Biogen since 2010. Under his leadership the company saw growth and commercialized six products. This year Biogen’s top MS drug Tecfidera allowed the company to “maintain an industry-leading operating profit margin of 49.3 percent over the last 12 months. During the second quarter, Tecfidera brought in $987 million.

But, at the same time, Biogen has seen some rough patches, including the termination of more than 11 percent of its employees under a restructuring program in 2015 and the termination of a lupus drug. Last year, the company also saw some concerns for Tecfidera, following reports that patients taking the drug were at risk for brain infections. Biogen’s MS pipeline is facing increased competition particularly from Roche and Celgene .

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