Biogen's lagging Vumerity, stalled by the pandemic, faces 'critical' stretch ahead, CEO says

Biogen’s Tecfidera follow-up Vumerity hit the market late last year, but eight months into the launch, the new multiple sclerosis drug is yet to meaningfully take off.

The drug generated only $11 million in the first half of the year, a disappointment for Biogen as it faces competitive threats to its blockbuster multiple sclerosis business. 

Vumerity, which Biogen execs touted as an effective, more tolerable alternative to star pill Tecfidera upon its rollout, generated $9 million in the second quarter, following a $2 million haul in the first quarter. The drug launched in the U.S. last November. 

RELATED: Biogen scores FDA nod for Tecfidera follow-up Vumerity as MS threats linger 

Speaking with analysts Wednesday, Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos said he shared “disappointment” in the medicine’s performance to date. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the rollout, Vounatsos said. He predicted the next five months would be "critical" for the medicine.

When Biogen launched the drug, the Big Biotech wasn’t pitching a “switch strategy,” he said. Rather, the company was focused on its entire fumerate category of multiple sclerosis medicines, which comprises Tecfidera and Vumerity. 

Shortly into Vumerity's launch, COVID-19 shutdowns came. It’s “challenging to launch” amid those circumstances as new patient starts and doctor visits were dramatically down, Vounatsos said.

Now, the company’s sole focus is on Vumerity, he said. While patients who are stable should stay on Tecfidera, he said the company is aligned on Vumerity at "all levels," including in its payer interactions, sales force and patient services. 

“The next months should speak,” the CEO said.

RELATED: Judge wipes out Biogen's Tecfidera patent protections in suit against Mylan 

The Vumerity focus comes at an important time for Biogen. Last month, a judge invalidated patent protections for Tecfidera, the company’s bestselling medicine. Biogen plans to appeal, but the decision, if it holds, could wipe out years of sales exclusivity. Meanwhile, spinal muscular atrophy treatment Spinraza continues its strong performance, and the company is anticipating FDA action on controversial Alzheimer’s candidate aducanumab. 

In the second quarter, Biogen posted sales of $3.68 billion, a 2% increase from the same period last year. The increase came despite challenges from the pandemic, and the results were helped by $330 million in manufacturing-related intellectual property licensing to a partner.