If you have Multiple Sclerosis the chances are good that you’ve used, or will use, a drug made by Biogen. The biophamaceutical company makes Avonex, Tysabri, Tecfidera, Fampya, Plegridy and Zinbryta to treat MS. I’ve used two of them myself and participated in the double-blind study for Avonex, way back when.
Now, Biogen’s Chief Executive Officer, George Scangos, has announced that he’s leaving. What will that mean to those of us who depend upon companies, such as Biogen, to continue to produce new, and hopefully better, MS drugs?
It’s been a roller coaster ride for Biogen over the six years that Scangos has been at its helm. Financially, the company had a strong second quarter this year. But sales, overall, have slowed. The Wall Street Journal reports that “sales of its biggest drug, Tecfidera, continued to cool in its latest quarter….Revenue from Avonex, Biogen’s No. 2 treatment, slipped from a year earlier.” Last month Opicinumab, an experimental MS drug for which Biogen had high hopes, failed to improve the health of patients in a midstage study.
The Boston Globe quotes biotech analyst Eric Schmidt as saying “George is leaving the company in good health, but this company, which wants to be a leader in treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, has a lot of wood to chop to strengthen the pipeline.” Does this mean less focus on MS drugs and more on drugs to treat other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and spinal muscular atrophy? Says Bloomberg biotech columnist Max Nisen: “Scangos deserves credit for building the world’s leading MS drug franchise. But his follow-through has been less exciting. Instead of spending $5 billion on something that might shift Biogen’s narrative of slowing growth and excessive risk, investors are getting a buyback. Scangos’s successor will need to be more creative.”
From the viewpoint of this MS patient, a patient who’s been helped by medicines that Biogen has developed, let’s hope that “more creative” doesn’t mean less attention to the needs of those of us with this lousy disease.