Biogen begins layoffs amid delayed uptake of Aduhelm

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Andrew Brookes
© GettyImages/Andrew Brookes

Related tags Biogen Alzheimer's disease Aduhelm

Biogen has started the process of laying off some US staff, following the less than optimal rollout of its Alzheimer’s disease drug, approved by the FDA in June 2021.

In December, the company said it would implement a series of cost-reduction measures in 2022 to "better align its costs with its revenue base"​, which it said was expected to be impacted by the continued entry of generics in multiple sclerosis, as well as the delayed uptake of Aduhelm. 

Those cost-reduction measures were estimated to yield around US$500m, a significant portion of which would be realized this year, it reported.

In support of that rationalization move, Biogen, in a statement sent to BioPharma-Reporter, said that some of its employees in the US have been recently informed that their “roles are being eliminated.”

“These changes will help the company remain flexible so additional investments can be made in our pipeline and other strategic initiatives," ​added the drug maker.

Employees who are being let go will be eligible for severance and support services as they “transition out of the company.”

As part of its headcount reductions, the pharma group has prioritized not fulfilling open positions; in addition, some employees are eligible to apply for the open positions Biogen is filling, according to a spokesperson.

The $500m cost-savings will not be entirely driven by headcount, she stressed.

In fourth-quarter results in February, Biogen said Aduhelm generated just $1m during Q4 and $3m for all of 2021.

The drug was approved by the FDA​ ​in June: although the decision was not without controversy with questions over its efficacy. In December, the European Medicines Agency said it would not approve the drug in the bloc over safety and efficacy concerns​.

Approval in the US was based on data from clinical trials showing the effect of Aduhelm on reducing amyloid beta plaques in the brain: with the accumulation of such plaques a feature of Alzheimer’s disease.

The EMA, however, said that the link between reducing amyloid beta in the brain and clinical improvement had not been established.

As part of the announcement at the end of last year, the company said it would cut the price​ of Aduhelm (aducanumab-avwa) in half. “Aduhelm’s reduced price takes into consideration the questions raised about this first class of therapies, the potential eligible population and revised pharmaco-economic assumptions.”

And, in what could be a further blow to Biogen’s ambitions for the AD drug, the US Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), in a preliminary proposal​ in January, said it would limit coverage for Aduhelm and similar drugs.

The proposal was open to public comment for 30 days, with a final decision to follow by April 11. The decision, if finalized, would cover Biogen's drug and all monoclonal antibodies directed against amyloid for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease coming through the pipeline, but only for patients enrolled in approved clinical trials.

Biogen says it is committed to engaging with CMS to avoid unnecessary duplication of clinical trials and work towards finding a path to offer immediate access to patients.

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