Celgene chief Bob Hugin ponders a new era for neurodegeneration R&D

Celgene CEO Bob Hugin

SAN FRANCISCO--During a luncheon meeting with reporters at a hotel near a bustling Union Square, Celgene ($CELG) CEO Bob Hugin--soon to be the executive chairman as Mark Alles moves into the CEO suite--was asked where he was interested in taking the company.

He responded--carefully choosing his words--by saying that any company that expects to have a major position in the industry a decade from now will almost have to play a big role in developing therapies for neurodegeneration.

I'm going to add here that Hugin made it painfully clear that he wasn't talking about executing a series of snap deals next week. He emphasized that he was talking about a years-long industry trend, driven by the basic demographics of an aging society that are making neurodegeneration a major issue for society.

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Given the fact that several Big Pharma organizations dropped out of CNS diseases, or significantly cut back, in the face of repeated setbacks about 5 years ago, Hugin's thoughts on long-term trends in the field highlight an emerging comeback for neuro R&D, particularly if you look at Biogen's commitment to the neuroscience field at a time ambitious new startups are landing major venture support.

Celgene has acquired a rep in the industry as one of the most aggressive, innovative dealmakers in the industry, ready to work with partners on research strategies and committed to executing landmark deals on cutting-edge therapies along the way. The trendsetter has committed billions of dollars to building its pipeline. And what Hugin thinks can influence the entire industry.

Interestingly, Hugin--who's faced flak from time to time about the blockbuster prices he's paid for new pipeline deals--also noted that there's no such thing as a fairly priced deal in biopharma. If you bag an experimental product with big potential and it fails, you paid too much. If it works, you paid less than what it was worth.

Right now, he's clearly happy with the track record in R&D and company growth. If you overlook the recent market turmoil, investors have been too.

Hugin's showing no signs of rethinking the company's game plan on executing pipeline deals. But he also isn't interested in gaining a rep for lavish spending. A few reporters and Celgene's top executive team were treated to a make-your-own sandwich buffet table. So banish any thoughts you may have had about scribes being wined and dined in San Francisco this week--at least where Celgene is concerned. -- John Carroll, editor-in-chief (email | Twitter)