2 Biogen board members depart as company struggles to get Aduhelm off the ground

A pair of Biogen board members are hitting the exit. Directors come and go all the time, but in Biogen’s case, they’re departing amid the troubled launch of Alzheimer’s disease drug Aduhelm.

Nancy Leaming and Brian Posner will retire from Biogen’s Board of Directors on Feb. 3., when the company holds its annual shareholder meeting. Both members joined the board in 2008. Leaming used to be the chief executive officer and president of insurance provider Tufts Health Plan, while Posner is a private investor, plus founder and managing partner of consulting firm Point Rider Group.

Leaming serves on Biogen’s audit committee, and Posner is the chair of its compensation management and development committee, Biogen said in a release Monday.

“Biogen has benefitted from Nancy’s deep experience as a leader in the insurance space and her insights into the healthcare reimbursement and payor market,” Stelios Papadopoulos, Ph.D., chairman of the board, said in a statement. “We have relied on Brian’s significant management and financial expertise, coupled with his commitment to sustainability,” he added.

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The company didn't say why Posner and Leaming are leaving. But their departure comes as Aduhelm struggles to gain traction after its controversial FDA approval last June.

In a separate announcement, Biogen said in November that Al Sandrock, M.D., Ph.D., would retire as head of R&D after 23 years at the company. Sandrock made his exit at the end of last year. 

Sandrock has repeatedly gone to bat for Aduhelm, also known as aducanumab, over the years. In July, he wrote an open letter in a bid to correct perceived misinformation about the product.

Amid the director and executive turnover, Biogen is hustling to turn Aduhelm’s fortunes around. The company last week said it was gearing up for an FDA-mandated post-marketing study of Aduhelm, dubbed Envision, that’s meant to shed more light on the drug’s clinical benefit. The trial could also help convert Aduhelm’s accelerated approval into a full one.

Biogen may need that study to reach patients following a potentially-paralyzing draft ruling from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which has proposed to restrict coverage of anti-beta-amyloid drugs like Aduehelm to patients who participate in a clinical trial.

If CMS were to sign off solely on Envision, Aduhelm would reach roughly a thousand patients for four years. By contrast, Biogen had previously estimated about 50,000 patient starts this year if broad Medicare reimbursement were in place.

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Biogen certainly appears to be a company in flux right now. Last week, Samsung Biologics announced it would pay up to $2.3 billion to buy Biogen’s stake in their biosimilar-focused joint venture, Samsung Bioepis. The deal will likely provide Biogen with more cash for its M&A war chest, and it suggests a full buyout of the company is unlikely to come anytime soon, Jefferies analyst Michael Yee wrote in a note to clients last week.

Meanwhile, on the coverage front, the company plans to contest the CMS proposal before a final decision in April. CEO Michel Vounatsos recently asked Aduhelm supporters to do the same.

During a 30-day open commenting period on the decision, "we encourage others to make their voice heard so that this final decision expected in April will allow for broader and more equitable access [to Aduhelm]" Vounatsos said on a January Q&A call with investors.