Biogen says Leqembi growing at 'steady pace'

24 Apr 2024
Drug ApprovalAcquisitionBiosimilar
Biogen said Wednesday that sales of its Eisai-partnered Alzheimer's disease treatment Leqembi (lecanemab) gained traction in the first quarter, reaching $19 million and nearly tripling the sales it generated in the previous three-month period.
According to Biogen, a "significant increase" in new patient starts was seen in March, with CEO Christopher Viehbacher noting that "momentum [is] building at a steady pace" for the product. "As the launch progresses and infrastructure develops, we continue to believe in the potential longer-term commercial opportunity in Alzheimer's disease," he added.
However, the performance was still far below the $30 million Jefferies analysts had forecast, although other analysts had set a more modest $11-million benchmark. Still, investors were pleased, bumping up company shares by nearly 7% before the bell.
Pace of patient starts
Biogen said the number of patients on the anti-amyloid antibody had increased by nearly 2.5-fold from roughly 2000 patients at the end of 2023. Eisai had previously aimed to treat 10,000 patients by March, but earlier this year indicated that it would likely miss that target. For more, see Physician Views In-Depth: Neurologists provide five key insights into Leqembi's laggardly launch.
While the latest numbers are encouraging, Jefferies analyst Michael Yee said the growth in patient starts needs to pick up steam from here.
Leqembi's uptake has been hindered by requirements such as extra diagnostic testing, twice-monthly infusions and regular brain scans. Viehbacher said challenges include the "amount of effort it takes to actually be able to initiate even the first patient…I do think we're now on a positive track. I think we're seeing momentum," although he does not expect the launch to be linear.
Bright spot with new launches
Biogen came into 2024 riding on the momentum of three other key product launches last year. Aside from Leqembi, the company also secured regulatory nods for Zurzuvae, a drug for post-partum depression (PPD) co-developed with Sage Therapeutics, and for Qalsody (tofersen), which is used to treat an ultra-rare genetic form of ALS. It also expanded in the rare disease space with a drug for Friedreich's ataxia, marketed as Skyclarys (omaveloxolone), when it acquired Reata Pharmaceuticals for $7.3 billion.
Zurzuvae notched approximately $12 million in quarterly revenue, whereas analysts had expected just $5 million for the drug, which missed out on the larger opportunity in major depressive disorder when the FDA approved it only for the PPD indication. See Spotlight On: Zurzuvae approval a real downer for Sage, Biogen.
Meanwhile, Skyclarys brought in $78 million, which edged passed consensus by about $6 million, while Qalsody generated $4.6 million in sales.
Older drugs continue to struggle
However, Biogen's mainstay MS drugs and spinal muscular atrophy treatment Spinraza continue to grapple with increased competition. Sales of its once-blockbuster MS drug Tecfidera came in at $254.3 million, although that was still about $18 million higher than consensus, while the MS franchise saw sales dip 4% to $1.1 billion during the quarter. Spinraza had sales of $341.3 million, falling below estimates.
Overall sales for the first quarter were down 7% at $2.3 billion, which was in line with consensus, while net income reached $393.4 million, up from $387.9 million for the same period last year. Viehbacher indicated that the company's cost-cutting measures are also taking hold and helped offset competition for its older drugs. Last July, Biogen said it would eliminate 1000 jobs, or more than 11% of its workforce, in a bid to rein in operating expenses by an additional $700 million by 2025.
Biogen on Wednesday also reaffirmed its outlook for adjusted earnings this year of $15 to $16 a share. The CEO said Biogen has no upcoming plans for major acquisitions, but is instead interested in licensing drugs and collaborating with other companies to expand its portfolio beyond neuroscience and into rare diseases and immunology.
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