Biogen: Don’t expect any big acquisitions this year

Investors who had hoped Biogen would do another flashy deal this year may not want to hold their breath, as the biotechnology company signaled that, at least for the time being, it isn’t looking to make any large purchases

“If something really extraordinary came along, I suppose we’d look at it,” Biogen CEO Chris Viehbacher said during an earnings call Wednesday. “But I don’t think where we sit right now we’d be thinking about doing anything this year on an acquisition front, not certainly of any size.”

That’s not to say the company couldn’t do a somewhat sizable transaction. It had close to $1.1 billion in cash and cash equivalents as of March 31, and records around $3 billion in income before taxes, interest and depreciation.

Chief Financial Officer Michael McDonnell also noted how Biogen could easily take on more debt, giving it the capacity to spend $4 billion to $5 billion this year “for things that we might be really interested in.”

Yet, Biogen executives said they’re more focused on collaborations, licensing agreements or deals for early-stage drugs — all of which tend to be smaller than full company acquisitions.

Viehbacher, who previously led the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi through its $20 billion purchase of Genzyme, has been a vocal proponent of dealmaking since he became Biogen’s CEO in late 2022.

“Biogen hasn’t necessarily looked at acquisitions as part of its growth strategy,” he said several months after his appointment. But, “I tell people, ‘Well, there wasn’t a lot of point hiring me if you don’t want to go do deals.’”

Viehbacher came aboard at a trying time for Biogen. The company’s flagship business of multiple sclerosis therapies was in decline, and new competition threatened to erode one of its top-selling products: a spinal muscular atrophy treatment called Spinraza.

Simultaneously, an Alzheimer’s disease drug Biogen had counted on to secure its future was floundering. A successor drug named Leqembi is faring better on the market, though its launch has still been slower than Biogen and its development partner Eisai had anticipated.

Backed by a revised leadership team, Viehbacher has stressed the need for Biogen to expand its research efforts beyond the brain and nervous system drugs that make up most of the company’s pipeline.

“The reality of neuroscience is that this is a high-risk area. We don’t always understand the underlying disease biology, the diseases progress slowly — that leads you to some very long and expensive trials,” Viehbacher told investors Wednesday. “So while we remain committed to neuroscience … that is not diversified enough for a company of our size.”

Over the past year or so, Biogen made clear rare diseases and immune system disorders are areas it sees as worthy of investment. Last summer, the company struck its largest deal in dollar terms, spending $7.3 billion to acquire Reata Pharmaceuticals, which had just secured approval for a drug used to treat an uncommon condition known as Friedreich’s ataxia.

Biogen has since declared that drug, Skyclarys, a near-term growth driver. Revenue from Skyclarys totaled $78 million over the first three months of this year, generally beating the expectations of Wall Street analysts.

But Biogen still needs to build its pipeline further, according to Viehbacher, who said Priya Singhal and Jane Grogan — the company’s respective heads of development and research — will be evaluating what additional programs to bring in from other labs.

The appetite for growth is clear, as Biogen just sold a coveted asset, a type of regulatory fast pass that speeds up a drug’s review cycle, for $103 million. The company intends to put the proceeds toward business development.

Viehbacher has an idea of what deals make sense. For example, Biogen won’t be making a “left turn” into areas where it has little to no experience, like cancer research.

Even in the central nervous system, Viehbacher claims that, “when you actually look at the ability to do external deals, that field is also very narrow. There’s just not that many people working in the CNS space.”

Meanwhile, Biogen’s experience researching, developing and selling Spinraza and a slate of multiple sclerosis drugs gives it “legitimacy in being in rare diseases and expanding into immunology,” according to Viehbacher.

“We’re going to continue to branch out,” he said.

This post has been syndicated from a third-party source. View the original article here.

Related Articles

Back to top button