Biogen CEO plots long-term turnaround after analysts brand company's recent results as 'weak'

While Biogen’s financials are in rough shape now, the company’s CEO, Chris Viebacher, sees reason to be optimistic about the future.

In fact, with four drug launches rolling and the majority of the company’s losses of exclusivity in the rearview, Biogen figures it could chart continued revenue growth over the next 10 years, Viehbacher said on a media call ahead of Biogen’s earnings presentation Tuesday.

Still, that return to growth is unlikely to materialize in 2024.

For all of 2023, Biogen generated $9.8 billion in sales, down 3% from $10.2 billion in 2022. For the current year, Biogen expects its total revenue to decline by a low- to mid-single-digit percentage, while core pharmaceutical revenue is expected to be “flat,” the company explained in an earnings release.

The company’s performance last year was “weak all around,” analysts at Mizuho Securities wrote in a note to clients Tuesday. The analysts blamed that poor performance on “weakness” for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) drug Spinraza, plus Biogen’s oral multiple sclerosis (MS) drug Vumerity. Spinraza's ex-U.S. sales missed estimates by $38 million in the fourth quarter, while Vumerity's global haul missed by $18 million, Mizuho's Salim Syed wrote in the note.

In the company’s earnings presentation,  Biogen blamed the Spinraza slump on shipment timing, competition and pricing pressure outside the U.S.

Overall, Biogen’s bread-and-butter multiple sclerosis franchise saw sales drop 12% at constant currencies to around $4.7 billion last year. 

Separately, Third Bridge analyst Lee Brown flagged "weakness" for Biogen's MS business, Spinraza and contract manufacturing.

Despite its lackluster performance in 2023, Biogen is determined to correct course, which it plans to do on the backs of multiple recent approvals for potential growth drivers like Leqembi in Alzheimer’s disease and Skyclarys in the rare disease Friedreich’s ataxia (FA).

“Our iceberg is melting and that will continue to melt,” Biogen CEO Viehbacher said of the sales erosion on Biogen’s legacy drugs during the company’s media call. “But progressively the new products will take on a greater share of the revenue.”

Further, Biogen’s major losses of exclusivity are now in the rearview, meaning a return to growth could be on the horizon, Viehbacher explained. Still, one loss of exclusivity could loom for Biogen's MS drug Tysabri after Sandoz's summer 2023 FDA approval for its biosimilar.

Much of Biogen’s near-term focus will be on Leqembi, its Eisai-partnered Alzheimer’s med. On the drug’s launch, the partners are making “steady progress,” according to Viehbacher, who noted there are currently about 2,000 patients on treatment.

Biogen will be expanding its marketing force in an effort to support Leqembi’s rollout, the CEO explained.

“We have now—after about six months in the market—really established a go-to-market model, and that gives us the confidence to increase our field force representation,” Viehbacher said.

As for Skyclarys, which Biogen got its hands on through its $7.3 billion buyout of Reata, the drug recently crossed the thousand-patient threshold. Meanwhile, the drug just won regulatory backing in the European Union.

“That’s quite important,” Viehbacher said, “Because Skyclarys, very much like our product Spinraza, is a product that tends to have broader global representation.”

The CEO explained that around 30% of Spinraza’s sales come from the U.S. while the other 70% come from abroad.

“We would expect that to be very much the same case for Skyclarys,” he said.

As for Skyclarys’ EU launch, Biogen has already rolled out early access programs in Germany and France, Viehbacher added.