As Biogen's sales flatline, CEO Chris Viehbacher touts progress on Leqembi, Skyclarys and other launches

While Biogen CEO Chris Viehbacher seems satisfied with the company's third-quarter financial metrics, the main question at the drugmaker isn’t so much how the company’s doing now, but what its plans are for future growth, he said on a call with investors.

These days, much of Biogen’s attention is focused on the trajectories of its Eisai-partnered Alzheimer’s med Leqembi and other launches, including the post-partum depression drug it received through its partnership with Sage Therapeutics, Zurzuvae.

Elsewhere, the company is banking big on its freshly christened Friedrich’s ataxia drug Skyclarys, which it acquired in the buyout of Reata.

Regarding Leqembi and Zurzuvae, both launches have been admittedly “nonconventional,” Viehbacher said Wednesday.

Specifically, the new CEO described Zurzuvae’s approval as a “mixed bag.” That’s because, aside from the PPD nod the partners secured in August, the companies had been angling for a much wider available patient pool in major depressive disorder (MDD). Analysts had pointed out that MDD would have offered a “meaningfully larger opportunity."

As for Leqembi, Biogen has “always guided that this was going to be a gradual launch,” Viehbacher said.

Part of the drug's rollout delay has stemmed from the need to establish treatment centers after the FDA approval earlier this year.

The Cleveland Clinic recently dosed its first Leqembi patient “months after the approval,” Viehbacher said, which he said “speaks to the complexity that we’re dealing with.”

Now, Biogen has a goal to get 10,000 patients on Leqembi by the end of March, up from the roughly 800 patients being treated now, Viehbacher said.

Since the drug’s full traditional approval this summer, things have been progressing “extremely nicely,” he added, citing Medicare’s rapid reimbursement moves at the time of the FDA’s decision.

“For us internally, we see a launch that is on track, but as we’ve always said, there’re no real analogues,” Viehbacher cautioned.

Meanwhile, Biogen also plans to leverage its rare disease expertise in spinal muscular atrophy to make Reata’s Skyclarys a success. The company has so far received 1,180 patient start forms to date, with roughly 860 patients currently on the drug.

In that sense, Skyclarys is actually “exceeding” Spinraza at this stage in its lifecycle, Viehbacher said. The new drug generated about $43 million in third-quarter sales.

“Biogen has been very successful with the launch of Spinraza, and we think we can do the same with Skyclarys,” Viehbacher added.

Leqembi, Skyclarys and Zurzuvae aren't Biogen's only ongoing launches. The company is also working to grow sales for its new med Qalsody, which targets the genetic cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Commenting on that drug, Viehbacher said it's "not necessarily a product that is going to be of interest to [many investors] from the revenue potential, but scientifically this [is] a major milestone."

Viehbacher’s comments came as Biogen reported $2.53 billion in third-quarter revenues. Meanwhile, Biogen raised its overall revenue guidance for the year, while narrowing its expectations for earnings per share in 2023.

Now, the company expects 2023 sales to chart a low-single-digit percentage decline, a slight improvement from the mid-single-digit slump the company previously predicted. As for EPS, Biogen now expects a slimmer range of $14.50 to $15.00, down from a prior range of $15.00 to $16.00.