Biogen 'turning the corner' as Leqembi and Skyclarys launches advance, but much work remains to be done: CEO

While Biogen’s Chris Viehbacher figures the company is “turning the corner” after several recent setbacks—thanks in large part to accelerating launches of new drugs like Leqembi and Skyclarys—the CEO has admitted that there’s still “a lot of work to do” as the pharma plugs ahead with its “Fit for Growth” savings initiative.

For the first time in several years, Biogen achieved earnings per share (EPS) growth in 2024’s first quarter, which landed at an adjusted value of $3.67. That EPS increase marks a “major achievement” for the company, Viehbacher said on a call with analysts Wednesday.

Nevertheless, Biogen still expects revenue to slip by a low- to mid-single-digit percentage for all of 2024, the company said in its first-quarter financial results. 

In Q1, Biogen’s sales dropped 7% to $2.3 billion, with Alzheimer’s med Leqembi and Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) drug Skyclarys generating roughly $19 million and $78 million over that same stretch, respectively, Biogen said.

Behind the scenes, Biogen has been investing “hundreds of millions of dollars” in new launches like Leqembi and Skyclarys as the company seeks to evolve beyond its original multiple sclerosis focus, Viehbacher pointed out.

In Alzheimer’s specifically, the estimated number of patients on Leqembi in 2024’s first quarter jumped nearly 2.5 times over the number of patients on the drug in the final quarter of 2023, with in-market sales nearly tripling over that same stretch.

Still, Viehbacher described the rollout of Leqembi as an “extraordinarily difficult launch.”

The CEO pointed to infrastructure challenges at hospitals and medical centers, as well as uncertainty around PET scan reimbursement—issues which Biogen’s Alzheimer’s partner Eisai also alluded to during an investor meeting last month.

But despite numerous hurdles, physicians are finding ways to overcome those barriers and, as a result, Viehbacher said he expects to continue seeing “quarter on quarter growth” for Leqembi moving forward.

At the moment, Biogen is still “unlocking the potential to treat a high volume of patients” with Leqembi, Alisha Alaimo, Biogen’s president and head of North America, said on the call, noting that more than 20% of new Leqembi patients since launch were added in March.

With more demand pulling through, Biogen has elected to expand its U.S. field sales force by 30%, Viehbacher said. Those customer-facing sales reps will become integrated with Eisai, Alaimo explained.

Aside from expanding its field force, Biogen and Eisai have also launched new direct-to-patient and caregiver marketing campaigns across multiple channels, Alaimo said.

“These digital programs and point of care resources are focused on the already diagnosed patients who we believe are under the care of a neurologist,” she explained.

While CEO Viehbacher acknowledged that he was “extremely encouraged” by Leqembi’s latest performance, he added the caveat that it’s still too early to put out a definitive sales forecast on the drug for the year.

Eisai ultimately expects global Leqembi revenue of 290 billion yen ($1.87 billion) in the Japanese fiscal year ended March 31, 2026, analysts at William Blair pointed out in a note to clients Wednesday. That sum is expected to grow to JPY 1.3 trillion (about $8.4 billion) in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2032. 

Elsewhere, Viehbacher made similar comments about Skyclarys’ launch in FA, noting that the rare disease market “doesn’t behave so typically.”

“There's always a catch-up population in rare disease,” Viehbacher said. “And so it takes a while for that catch-up population to work through the system, and then have a look at what's the underlying demand.”

Biogen now has 1,100 patients on therapy in the U.S., according to the CEO. In Europe, there were 300 patients on Skyclarys by the end of January.

While Biogen figures Europe will soon contribute to Skyclarys’ sales in a major way, that revenue split likely won’t become apparent until 2025, Viehbacher explained.

Meanwhile, with a solid bedrock of patients in place, Biogen is moving on to the next phase of its Skyclarys launch, which includes education of neurologists and primary care physicians about the disease and drug, as well as engaging “additional appropriate patients,” Alaimo said.

Biogen reported earnings as the company plows ahead with its “Fit for Growth” strategy, first unveiled in 2023’s second quarter. The program is intended to yield around $1 billion in savings by 2025, of which Biogen plans to re-invest roughly $300 million into R&D and product launches. At the time of the strategy’s reveal, Biogen also noted it would be laying off around 1,000 employees.

“We’re impressed by Biogen’s substantial cost savings and margin improvement, tied to its previously announced Fit for Growth initiative,” Lee Brown, global sector lead for healthcare at research firm Third Bridge wrote in a note to clients Wednesday. The analysts pointed out that Leqembi, in particular, “appears to be gaining a bit of momentum.”