The axe has started to fall at Biogen. Among the first to feel its wrath: the commercial team for the biotech’s beleaguered Azlheimer’s drug Aduhelm.
As part of a previously announced plan to achieve $500 million in cost cuts, the biotech on Wednesday notified some employees that their positions were being eliminated.
“These changes will help the company remain flexible so additional investments can be made in our pipeline and other strategic initiatives,” read an emailed statement shared by Biogen’s communications team. “We appreciate the contributions of our departing colleagues, who will be eligible for severance and support services as they transition out of the company.”
While the company declined to disclose an exact number of layoffs, multiple news reports provided some detail. Among more than 100 people let go as of Thursday, pink slips were issued to two-thirds of the Alzheimer’s commercial team and all of the company’s Alzheimer’s field leaders, Endpoints News reported, citing senior company officials. Salespeople on older brand Spinraza, a treatment for spinal muscular atrophy, were also impacted, according to STAT News.
Biogen announced the restructuring scheme in December along with a 50% cut on Aduhelm’s list price, from $56,000 to $28,200 per patient. The pricing move came just ahead of a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid decision on Medicare’s reimbursement for the drug, in which the federal payer said it will only cover Aduhelm when used in a clinical trial.
In response, Biogen said the CMS proposal would effectively limit coverage to a mere 1,000 to 2,000 patients in a trial. The drugmaker had hoped to start 50,000 patients on the treatment this year. A final CMS decision is due next month.
Meanwhile, Biogen has had trouble convincing commercial payers to cover the drug and doctors to prescribe it. Skepticism among the medical and scientific community has run high since the drug’s June approval, which came via the FDA’s accelerated approval pathway despite mixed clinical data.
With the launch hobbled by these issues, sales have suffered. Aduhelm revenue for the fourth quarter totaled just $1 million, prompting Biogen leadership to start cutting costs.
An earlier STAT report had noted that more than 1,000 jobs — representing about 10% of Biogen’s staff — were set to be terminated this year through layoffs, voluntary resignations and the elimination of open positions.
The Biogen spokesperson said that the $500 million cost savings will not entirely be driven by reductions in head count and that some employees will be able to apply for open positions.