- Biogen has licensed another experimental drug from its longtime development partner Ionis Pharmaceuticals, bringing in house a treatment the companies believe could offer some advantages over their blockbuster medicine Spinraza.
- Ionis sold the exclusive rights to its drug, which Biogen is calling BIIB115, for $60 million upfront, but it may receive additional payments if certain developmental, regulatory and commercial milestones are hit. Ionis would also reap royalties on any net sales should its drug come to market. The potential size of these payments wasn't disclosed in the deal's announcement Tuesday.
- Like Spinraza, BIIB115 was created with a drugmaking technology called antisense, and is meant to treat a rare and potentially fatal disorder known as spinal muscular atrophy. While Spinraza has proven effective, Biogen and Ionis argue that this newer drug might be able to address some of the lingering needs of SMA patients, as well as be administered less often.
First approved in late 2016, Spinraza has become one of the most important medicines in Biogen's arsenal, accounting for about a fifth of the company's total product revenue.
Recently, though, the Spinraza franchise hasn't fared as well due to competitive threats.
A second treatment, the Zolgensma gene therapy from Novartis, became available in 2019. Then a third option arrived the following year with Evrysdi, an oral medication developed by Roche. On its most recent earnings report, Biogen pointed to this more crowded market as the main reason why third quarter Spinraza revenue in the U.S. had fallen 23%.
Spinraza's challenges have added further instability to an already perilous position for Biogen. Over the last year or so, the company's main source of revenue, the multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera, has been eroded by generic competition. Biogen closed out the first nine months of 2020 with $6.7 billion in total product revenue, down 21% from the same period a year prior.
Even more consequential, a first-of-its-kind treatment for Alzheimer's disease that could have rightsized Biogen's business has thus far disappointed.
The drug, called Aduhelm, has been met with fierce opposition from some doctors, politicians and insurers due to its price and the unusual events that led up to its approval in June. The roadblocks have resulted in anemic sales for a drug many analysts assumed would be an almost instant blockbuster. In an effort to improve Aduhelm's trajectory, Biogen last month disclosed plans to cut the price tag almost in half.
Against these headwinds, Biogen's stock price has declined by about 40% since last June and, in turn, made it the focus of buyout speculation. Just last week, the Korean Economic Daily reported that the biotech division of Samsung was in talks to acquire Biogen. A division of Samsung later denied the report.
On Biogen's end, the newest licensing agreement with Ionis suggests that it sees value in advancing another Spinraza-like medicine, especially if it can tackle some of the unaddressed needs of SMA patients.
Biogen's investors, however, may need more convincing. The company's share price was relatively unchanged in Tuesday morning trading.
BIIB115 is currently at the preclinical stage of development. Biogen declined to provide details about when it expects the drug to enter human testing.