After staff and research cuts, Biogen mulls selling hemophilia assets

Biogen's headquarters

Biogen is set for a little blood-letting as it looks to move out of the saturated hemophilia market and focus more heavily on developing "risky" treatments.

This is according to news wire Reuters, which quoted "people familiar with the matter" as saying the Cambridge, MA-based biotech is working with an investment bank on a potential sale. The company's hemophilia assets brought in about $500 million last year.

There is no guarantee that the discussions will lead to a deal, the sources added, as quoted by Reuters.

Biogen is something of a newcomer to this space, with its new long-acting treatments Alprolix and Eloctate--both approved in the past two years.

But these treatments compete against meds from some experienced hands, including Baxter (now Baxalta), Novo Nordisk, Bayer and CSL. Swiss major Roche is also looking to get into the mix with its first-in-class antibody currently undergoing trials. Massachusetts-based Alnylam ($ALNY) is working on its own cutting-edge gene therapy that could one day cure the disease altogether.

As Reuters notes, hemophilia sits awkwardly in Biogen's CNS and autoimmune-dominated pipeline--but the large biotech did recently pay out a small investment in its hemophilia platform by partnering with two Italian research institutions to develop its own gene therapies.

Both Alprolix and Eloctate are expected to become blockbusters as sales grow across new markets, and in February, Biogen CEO George Scangos told Xconomy that he had decided to hold on to the products and try to build a platform around them.

But priorities may now be changing, and this all comes after a tough 2015 for the company. Last year Biogen announced an 11% cut to its 7,550 staff--and said it would stop developing a drug for lupus and end some immunology and fibrosis research.

Instead, Biogen wants to concentrate on high-risk programs that promise high reward, which includes the late-stage development of its high-profile Alzheimer's disease drug aducanumab; two other Alzheimer's programs; its anti-Lingo drug that aims to repair nerve damage caused by MS; and one for spinal muscular atrophy.

But things haven't quite worked out here either; aducanumab has seen a mixed bag of results in recent trials, with data released last summer tempering expectations after a 6-mg dose of the drug significantly reduced beta-amyloid plaque in the brain--but failed to significantly slow mental decline.

The U.S. biotech's stock fell by about 35% over a three-month period leading up to the cuts announcement in October, due primarily to concerns around the slowing sales of its new MS pill Tecfidera--which is also coming under pressure from a major (and very early) IP challenge.

- check out the Reuters story