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Roller Coaster Ride Continues For Biogen's Prospective Alzheimer's Drug After Employees Battle Coronavirus

Biogen headquarters on Binney Street in Cambridge. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Biogen headquarters on Binney Street in Cambridge. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Biogen, the Cambridge drug maker whose February executive conference was linked to a majority of early coronavirus infections detected in Massachusetts, said Wednesday that all of its employees have regained their health or are on the road to recovery.

And, despite the unwanted attention that came with being at the center of an outbreak, the company managed to beat many business analysts' expectations by collecting $3.5 billion of first-quarter revenue, a 1% increase over the same period of 2019.

Yet investors lopped off more than 9% of Biogen's stock value.

The apparent reason: A prospective Alzheimer's treatment with a troubled past won't be ready for submission to the FDA until the second half of this year, months later than anticipated.

Biogen Chief Executive Michel Vounatsos said in a statement that the company is "making good progress toward the U.S. regulatory filing for aducanumab," the potential Alzheimer's drug.

Addressing the coronavirus, he added that "the magnitude and uncertainty surrounding this pandemic clearly introduce unanticipated and potentially unquantifiable risks to our business and results over the near term."

Vounatsos provided the update on Biogen employees' health near the start of a morning call with investors and analysts to discuss the company's latest earnings data.

The Alzheimer's drug development has for years stirred excitement among patients and their loved ones because the disease is difficult to treat, and among investors because an effective therapy could be highly profitable.

Biogen's business prospects are so closely tied to the drug that the company lost more than $18 billion in the stock market in a single day last March, when an independent monitoring committee determined clinical trials of the treatment had little chance of success. Biogen and its development partner, Tokyo-based Eisei, ended the trials.

Then, in a stunning reversal, Biogen declared renewed confidence in the drug seven months later and said it would seek FDA approval in "early 2020." The news helped Biogen recover much of its earlier stock market loss.

But Vounatsos wavered on the timeline in January, saying the company would submit an application "as soon as possible."

Now, Biogen has further revised its projection, saying it "expects" to file between July and September.

Vounatsos cited a "complex and unprecedented dataset" as part of the reason for the delay.

This article was originally published on April 22, 2020.

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