Biogen’s CEO abandons employees

keep-calm-and-abandon-ship-27KEY TAKEAWAY: When a CEO decides to take the money and leave a company facing challenges you have to wonder why in the hell he was eve named CEO?

The news last week that Biogen’s CEO was leaving the company could not have come at a worse time.  Biogen’s new MS drug in development looks like it’s going to have major black box warnings, their last DTC campaign was a disaster and they are spinning off one of their business units.  From what I can tell the moral at the company is in the toilet.

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Let’s start with a DTC campaign that was doomed to fail. I wrote, back in April, “spending $40 million on a DTC campaign to increase awareness of a drug that people are demolishing on social media is a waste of money. Surely DTC marketers can do better than this.  According to STAT; some patient advocates slammed the ad for what they called an unrealistic portrayal of living with MS. The condition can vary dramatically, but many patients experience chronic, severe fatigue and numbness, even when they’re not in a state of relapse.“It just makes me cringe. I want to throw something at the TV,” said Laura Kolaczkowski, an Ohio resident who has MS.

The DTC campaign was a colossal waste of money.  It was founded by DTC marketers who didn’t understand their own market and patients and their agency should also be held accountable.  It clearly shows the consequences of not listening to your audience via social media.

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Biogen is also looking to sell its hemophilia assets. The move can be seen as an extension of the company’s restructuring and cost-cutting initiatives. Or it could mean something bigger — Biogen may be setting itself up to acquire or to get acquired.

Then there was the hope of a new MS drug.  Biogen’s experimental drug for multiple sclerosis that investors and patients had hoped might alter the course of the neurological disease failed in a mid-stage trial. The drug, called opicinumab, missed both the main and secondary goals for treating the disorder, Biogen said Tuesday in a statement. Shares fell 12 percent to $254.88 at the biggest intraday drop since July 2015.
“While many investors were thinking the company would find some inconclusive reason to advance this program into phase 3, it sounds like the data were so underwhelming that even this may be a challenge,” Joshua Schimmer, an analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co., said in a note to clients Tuesday.

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I have known for some time that Biogen was in deep shit.  I kept getting calls for “contractor” work in all areas of the company and have seen very talented people leave either after a layoff or voluntarily. It seems that most of their marketing is farmed out to vendors and frankly a lot of people on social media don’t have nice things to say about the company.

In this author’s opinion Biogen will be sold within the next 36 months.  A star that went supernova too fast and thought it could compete with the big pharma companies.  As one former Biogen employee told me “before we moved downtown Cambridge Biogen was a great place to work with a real can-do attitude, but then we hired the wrong people and became big pharma and lost one of our greatest strengths”.

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