Biogen looks to M&A to overcome competition to its MS franchise

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Biogen's ready to do more M&A as it looks to grow in the face of burgeoning competition to its powerful MS drug franchise.

With its multiple sclerosis medications under pressure, Biogen is looking to M&A to boost its future. It hopes to do deals that would build on the success it’s enjoyed with neurology drugs, while also looking at new areas, like it did with its new and pricey rare-disease drug Spinraza.

Biogen kicked its efforts off this month when it agreed to pay Bristol-Myers Squibb $300 million upfront and up to $410 million in milestones to get its hands on BMS-986168, an anti-tau antibody seen as a treatment for progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and Alzheimer’s disease.

RELATED: Bristol-Myers offloads anti-tau, DMD assets to Biogen, Roche for $470M upfront, $615M in milestones

Michael Ehlers, who took over R&D for Biogen last year, told Bloomberg the BMS deal is hopefully “just the beginning of a set of very rigorous but highly active deals.”

In addition to supplementing its neurology expertise, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech is looking at buying some pipeline help in the areas of eye diseases and chronic pain. He pointed at Biogen’s late 2016 approval of Spinraza, a treatment for the lethal muscle disease spinal muscular atrophy as an example of what it might do.

“I don’t think anyone would have thought a few years ago that we’d have the kind of breakthrough in spinal muscular atrophy that we have today,” Ehlers told the news service.

Perhaps the bigger surprise than the treatment area was that in an environment where high drug prices can get a company hauled before a Congressional committee, Biogen priced the drug at $125,000 per injection. That comes out to $750,000 for the first year of treatment and $375,000 after that. Biogen has defended the price as in line with other rare disease drugs and one that is needed to help fund its R&D efforts.

RELATED: Biogen's $375K Spinraza price puts a Sovaldi-style spotlight on rare disease meds

Actually, investors are ready for a few more good surprises, given the roller-coaster ride Biogen's stock price has been on in the last year. One of the pressures has come from concerns over sales of its powerhouse multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera. Those concerns are intensifying since the approval last month of Ocrevus, a new MS drug from Roche.

RELATED: Hard-hit Biogen needs to act fast, analysts say--or beware its deal-hungry peers

Ocrevus, the first drug specifically approved to treat progressive as well as relapsing multiple sclerosis, is expected to become the dominant player in the MS market over the next three to five years. Leerink Partners analyst Geoffrey Porges has forecast that it will cut Biogen’s sales by 3% to 4% a year, reducing Biogen’s MS revenue from $8.7 billion this year to $7.8 billion in 2020. Helping that effort is Roche's decision to price the drug at $65,000 per year, a 20% discount, on average, to its rivals

RELATED: Look out, Biogen and Novartis. Roche's Ocrevus is coming for your MS sales—big time, analyst predicts

Biogen will be able to lay out all of its plans for combating the competition and how it intends to spur growth next week when it reports Q1 earnings.