Rebuilding Biogen’s brain

What Biogen is building in neurology

Biogen Inc. is still a long way from a full rebuild of its pipeline, with an Alzheimer’s disease-laden Phase III lineup that needs to diversify. But there’s progress in the early- to mid-stage programs where the biotech has brought in new modalities and broadened its scope to encompass riskier targets for a growing range of neurology indications.

Its April 20 deal with Ionis Pharmaceuticals Inc. is the latest and biggest move Biogen has taken to bolster its long-term prospects for becoming the leader in neurology.

The $1 billion, 10-year collaboration provides Biogen with a proven modality to tackle genetically driven disorders, including rare diseases and subtypes of larger indications such as Parkinson’s disease.

The deal builds on the success of Spinraza nusinersen, an intrathecally administered antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) approved to treat the Orphan disease spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Spinraza originated from the biotech’s 2012 partnership with Ionis and was the largest growth driver in Biogen’s 2Q18 earnings.

In December 2016, Spinraza became the second antisense oligo to gain FDA approval after Ionis’ Kynamro mipomersen, and the first drug to show a survival benefit in SMA.

It is also the first neuroscience drug Biogen has launched outside its core competency of multiple sclerosis.

“Our strategy takes a thoughtful and conscious approach to rebalancing risk in our portfolio.”

Michael Ehlers, Biogen

In the two years since announcing plans to narrow its focus to neuroscience, Biogen has amassed a pipeline of 16 programs focused on a variety of large and small indications, and covering three new targets. The company also added more oligos and gene therapies to its staple modalities -- antibodies and small molecules (see “Tilted Toward AD”).

Biogen’s goal is to build a portfolio of neurology therapies across four areas: MS and neuroimmunology, AD and dementia, PD and movement disorders, and neuromuscular diseases, including SMA and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The company did not

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