Biogen's future: Bigger bets on CNS, smaller name

George Scangos

Biogen's ($BIIB) latest evolution is more than just a nominal shift, according to its CEO, as the Big Biotech lops the Idec from its name and hopes to parlay its success in multiple sclerosis into some tough-to-treat diseases.

First, 12 years after a $6.8 billion merger, Biogen is excising Idec Pharmaceuticals from its branding and unveiling a new logo. As CEO George Scangos put it in an open letter, "The old Biogen and the old Idec each contributed meaningfully to our current success, but today we are a new company, distinct from either parent, and we hope not only to carry on our heritage of excellence, but to forge new ground."

That means an increased focus on the high-risk propositions of neurodegenerative disease, Scangos told Reuters, headlined by an ambitious effort in Alzheimer's disease.

Biogen turned heads last week when aducanumab, an antibody targeting the Alzheimer's-related beta amyloid proteins, came through with some impressive results in a Phase I study. The trial was not without safety concerns, and the dismal clinical record of similar therapies makes for a colossal caveat, but it's enough to justify a Phase III trial, the company believes. And success with aducanumab, whatever the odds, would alter the future of Biogen, Scangos said.

"Five years down the road, with some luck, we'll have an Alzheimer's drug that's getting approved," Scangos told Reuters. "I hope we can transform the treatment of MS. By that time, we will have made substantial progress on ALS and other nerve degenerative diseases, spinal muscular atrophy in kids. All that stuff is on our plate."

The plan is to evolve from "just an MS company," Scangos said, into an innovator focused on neurological disease. "While our name and logo are new," he wrote in the letter, "our mission remains unchanged: We are firmly based in science, focused on patients and determined to create meaningful therapies for serious medical conditions."

Meanwhile, Biogen's shares are trading at an all-time high thanks in part to excitement over aducanumab and the market performance of Tecfidera, the company's latest disruptive effort in MS. Beyond the programs name-checked by Scangos, Biogen is at work on two Phase III treatments for lymphoma; midstage therapies for lupus, neuralgia, stroke and pain; and a slew of early-stage candidates for CNS and fibrotic ailments.

- read the letter
- here's the Reuters story

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