12:00 AM
Jul 02, 2012
 |  BioCentury  |  Strategy

Revving the engine

Biogen Idec using key hire, academic collaborations to restart target discovery

After 18 months on the job, EVP of R&D Douglas Williams is making good on his promise to reignite target discovery efforts at Biogen Idec Inc., starting with several new hires, including a CSO from Harvard Medical School, and a series of academic collaborations.

When Williams finished pruning the pipeline in early 2011, Biogen Idec had eight Phase III programs but none in Phase II and just five in Phase I (see BioCentury, Aug. 29, 2011).

Two of the latter have since graduated to Phase II. Meanwhile, EVP of Corporate Development Steven Holtzman has brought in two more Phase II candidates, plus an option to a third in Phase I (see "Progress Report," A12).

Holtzman also added a discovery deal with Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced on June 29. Isis will receive $12 million up front to discover a lead candidate targeting dystrophia myotonica-protein kinase (DMPK; DM1) to treat myotonic dystrophy type 1. Biogen Idec will have an option to license the candidate through the completion of Phase II trials. The deal includes up to $59 million in milestones for Isis prior to licensing, and if Biogen Idec exercises the option, up to $200 million more in license fees and milestones. Under a January deal, Biogen Idec has an option to Isis' ISIS-SMNRx for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA)(see BioCentury, Jan. 9).

From the outset, Williams has said in-house target discovery is essential to generating the first-in-class programs necessary to sustain the pipeline. But when he arrived, "there wasn't a group that was internally devoted to target discovery and validation. We were relying a lot on reading the literature. I would argue that gave us no head start or specific enlightenment over anyone else."

As a result, the company found itself fighting with everyone else to develop programs against the same targets and pathways.

"We did very well - we do have molecules in development. But these tended to be in areas where the programs are not first in class," Williams told BioCentury.

In an R&D day on June 12, Williams introduced new additions to his leadership team, several of whom will help him restart target discovery, including Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas. Artavanis-Tsakonas, who is on a one-year sabbatical from his post as a professor of cell biology at Harvard, became CSO in March.

"It is...

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