Despite Aduhelm cost cuts, Biogen still has Alzheimer's manufacturing firepower on deck, CFO says

While Biogen gutted its commercial infrastructure for Alzheimer’s disease in a bid to save $1 billion a year, not all its work on Aduhelm is lost in the ramp up to its second bite at the apple with lecanemab.

Namely, the company has been able to salvage manufacturing firepower it amassed ahead of aducanumab’s ill-fated launch last summer, Biogen’s chief financial officer Michael McDonnell said on an investor call Tuesday.

Should its second Eisai-partnered prospect, lecanemab, win an approval at the FDA this coming January, Biogen already has facilities on deck to crank out the amyloid plaque-busting antibody, plus “a little over $100 million of inventory on hand as of the end of the quarter,” McDonnell said.

In terms of Biogen’s production footprint, the company boasts a “significant” facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, plus a relatively new plant in Switzerland that it established to round out the Aduhelm supply chain.

That latter facility in Solothurn, Switzerland, will be largely “dedicated” to the company’s Alzheimer’s products, McDonnell said.

For now, launch prep includes "getting inventory ready for launch of lecanemab,” the CFO said. And while the Solothurn plant is currently “heavily tied” to that Alzheimer’s prospect, it could eventually pivot back to aducanumab production if "Aduhelm becomes more marketable,” McDonnell said.

Last year, Biogen manufacturing executive Nicole Murphy told Fierce Pharma the company figured it had built enough capacity in Solothurn to supply Aduhelm to more than 1 million patients a year, with plenty of room to grow at the site should the need arise.

Biogen has invested more than 1.5 billion Swiss francs in the Solothurn plant over the years, a company spokesperson said over email. When running at full speed, the plant boasts two biomanufacturing cells totaling 148,000 liters of bioreactor capacity. 

Despite the plant’s lecanemab production push, “there will be some idle capacity” over time as those efforts ramp up, McDonnell explained. The company incurred $12 million in idle capacity charges in 2022’s third quarter, the CFO added.

Over on the commercial front, meanwhile, “there’s not a whole lot that can or will be repurposed from Aduhelm,” McDonnell admitted, referencing the company’s $1 billion cost-cutting efforts. McDonnell also cited lessons learned from Aduhelm’s unfortunate debut, noting that this time around, the company plans to ramp up commercial investments as revenues grow rather than pledging a high spend up front.

McDonnell’s comments came as Biogen reported some $2.5 billion in sales for the third quarter, down 8% at constant currencies over the same period in 2021. Hoping to put its Aduhelm imbroglio in the rearview, Biogen was abuzz about its upcoming prospects in Alzheimer’s disease, ALS and depression.

Those efforts, coupled with new biosimilar launches, could help Biogen achieve a period of “renewed growth” with “5 key franchises” by 2025, the company’s outgoing CEO, Michel Vounatsos, said on Tuesday’s call. The company didn't provide an update about the search for Vounatsos successor.

In the meantime, Biogen’s penny-pinching initiatives seem to be paying off. Crediting “better-than-expected” topline performance and “continued cost management,” the company has raised its full-year revenue guidance from a range of $9.9 billion to $10.1 billion to $10 billion to $10.15 billion.