Previous rumours were finally confirmed when Biogen announced this week that they are cutting back 11% of their workforce by the end of 2015. Several projects in their pipeline will also be shut down which include Phase III development of oral drug Tecfidera for its use in secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, Phase II development of anti-TWEAK in lupus nephritis and other preclinical projects in immunology and fibrosis research. These restructuring reforms are projected to save $250 million in yearly operating expenses though may incur about $90 million to implement.
The resulting savings from the cutbacks are to be channeled toward the development of anti-Alzheimer’s disease drugs. One of these is aducanumab, a Phase III beta-amyloid antibody that sent the public in a hopeful frenzy as a Phase I clinical trial revealed dose-dependent cognitive improvement when the drug was given at 3 mg/kg and 10 mg/kg doses. A repeat of the trial at a 6 mg/kg dose however failed to reproduce this cognitive improvement although it did reduce beta amyloid levels to a significant extent. MMSE (mini mental state examination) scores for placebo group worsened by 2.81 points on average at 52 weeks compared to 2.18 points in the 1 mg/kg, 0.70 in the 3 mg/kg, 1.96 in the 6 mg/kg and 0.56 in the 10 mg/kg. These confounding results exemplify the challenges faced with developing drugs for this complex disease. As a sidenote: For a more personal insight into this debilitating disease, watch Still Alice, where Julianne Moore gave an Academy Award winning performance, depicting a linguistics professor suffering from early-onset AD.
Despite this, Biogen is pressing on, recruiting 1350 patients for the Phase III trial of aducanumab that would extend over 5 years. It is also focussed on development of BAN2401, a Phase II antibody with the same target, and E2609, a BACE inhibitor. Consistent with their focus on neurological disease, Biogen has also been forming strategic partnerships with research institutes such as the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center and Columbia University Medical Centre to further understanding on Parkinson’s disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis respectively.
Aside from neurology, Biogen is invested in developing drugs towards hemophilia as well as autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease.