Will layoffs at Biogen affect its focus on multiple sclerosis treatments?

With 'shift in resources' underway, pharmaceutical giant cuts jobs from MS team

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by Ed Tobias |

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Biogen has been a top dog in the multiple sclerosis (MS) treatment field for decades. The pharmaceutical giant developed Avonex (interferon beta-1a), approved in the U.S. in 1996 as one of the first disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) for MS. I remember how excited I was to be participating in its Phase 3 clinical trial. “Finally, there’s a medication that might stop my MS,” I thought.

MS medications, such as Avonex, have long been some of Biogen’s top revenue producers. According to BioSpace, last year, Biogen’s MS business earned $5.43 billion — nearly 68% of the company’s annual revenue.

BioSpace also reports that Tysabri (natalizumab) was the company’s best moneymaker, earning more than $2.3 billion in 2022. It was followed by Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate), with more than $1.4 billion in sales. Vumerity (diroximel fumarate), Plegridy (peginterferon beta-1a), and Fampyra (fampridine) — which Acorda Therapeutics markets as Ampyra (dalfampridine) in the U.S. — accompany Avonex on the roster of Biogen’s MS medications.

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Biogen layoffs

You’d think with a hefty stable of MS treatments like that, a layoff wouldn’t be in the cards. But The Boston Globe and other news organizations are reporting that there’s been one, and it includes people working on the MS treatment team. Matt Winton, who’d been a senior vice president and head of that team, confirmed his departure on LinkedIn late last month.

Biogen’s MS treatments, especially Tecfidera, have been facing competition from generics. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal seeking to reinstate the company’s patent for Tecfidera. And according to Yahoo, Tysabri’s sales are being threatened by a possible biosimilar that is now being tested and could be approved in the U.S. and Europe later this year.

Costs are high and sales are dropping

The Boston Globe story quotes Biogen CEO Christopher Viehbacher as telling investors last February that the company “has a cost base that is probably higher than most of its peers, and we need to think about that much more systematically.”

He acknowledged that its MS treatments are “a declining revenue base” and said Biogen would be making “a shift in resources” to other medications, such as a recently approved Alzheimer’s drug and an antidepressant that’s in the approval pipeline.

Will the layoffs affect people with MS?

Biogen hasn’t said how many of its workers have been laid off, but I hope these departures won’t affect the company’s MS research or its commitment to MS treatments. Two of its DMTs, Avonex and Tysabri, have helped hold my MS in check over the years. I’m grateful that they were available.

I’d hate to see Biogen move away from the significant attention it’s paid to MS for some three decades.

You’re invited to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


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