Biogen sees new Tecfidera buzz as DTC, marketing push kicks in

Biogen's ($BIIB) multiple sclerosis superstar Tecfidera turned into a laggard last year after the FDA raised new safety questions. But if dollar signs are any indicator, a new advertising and marketing push--and a higher price--have helped put the brand back into a higher gear.

The company replaced its commercial chief, Tony Kingsley, in mid-October. Meanwhile, it stepped up sales calls and rolled out a brand-new TV campaign. By the end of the fourth quarter, the drug had racked up $993 million in sales, a 16% increase year-over-year. Full-year sales amounted to $3.6 billion, a 19% growth over 2014.

Tecfidera's not back to its previous growth rate; sequentially, that $993 million was a 6% increase over the previous quarter, and it included $30 million in inventory stocking ahead of January 1. But Biogen credits the DTC effort with renewed buzz in the market.

Biogen CFO Paul Clancy

"We are seeing positive leading indicators for the recently launched marketing campaign for Tecfidera, including increased visits to our website and higher call volume into our patient services organization," CFO Paul Clancy said during the company's Q4 earnings call.

The company is "hopeful" that the new campaign can "reaccelerate growth," but it believes it won't be able to fully gauge its effects until the second quarter.

The company needs Tecfidera to step back up. The drug-fueled major growth at Biogen for several quarters after its launch, rocketing to blockbuster-level sales. But after the FDA reported cases of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) and slapped a warning of the rare disease on the drug's label in late 2014, Tecfidera lost momentum, and Biogen had to cut its earnings forecast for 2015.

That "deceleration," as Biogen put it, led the company to announce 800 job cuts and other cost-saving measures. That made room in its budget to invest in more DTC and marketing for Tecfidera in pursuit of a turnaround.

- check out a Tecfidera TV ad at iSpot.tv
- see the earnings call transcript at The Street

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