Biogen CEO on Controversial Alzheimer’s Drug: ‘There Is Hope’

December 6, 2019, 4:47 PM UTC

There was more drama this week about Biogen and its controversial Alzheimer’s drug. Speaking before a large crowd of Alzheimer scientists gathered in San Diego, California, Biogen showed new data that its drug, called aducanumab, could offer relief to people struggling with Alzheimer’s. In a detailed presentation, the company said that in clinical trials, patients receiving the highest dose of the drug had slower declines in their cognitive abilities than patients who received a placebo.

There’s been plenty of skepticism about those claims ever since Biogen shocked the biotech world in October when it announced it was resurrecting its research and would also seek regulatory approval for the drug. Just a few months earlier, Biogen said it had given up on aducanumab and terminated its research because of disappointing results.

Now the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotechnology company says it has renewed confidence that the drug works and has returned to the Food and Drug Administration for approval. A decision is expected in 2020. If regulators give the okay, the drug could be the first treatment that actually helps people with the debilitating Alzheimer’s disease.

As the saga continues, Biogen shares have been soaring and tumbling on every new piece of information, and opinions on Wall Street have been mixed.

But when I spoke with Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos a few weeks ago, he was positive and hopeful. What he finds encouraging, he says, is that Alzheimer’s patients who have received Biogen’s drug treatment showed “significant” improvement after 18 months.

“We have to be modest, humbled, and follow the regulatory process now,” he tells me. “We have to wait before we celebrate. But there is hope.”

So, if Vounatsos succeeds in delivering a breakthrough drug to treat Alzheimer’s, what will it cost? At first, he pushes back saying, “it’s too early to speak about cost.” 

After some thought, he suggests that it will take a more innovative payment model to cover the millions of people suffering from Alzheimer’s memory loss. According to the CDC, the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to nearly triple to 14 million people in the United States by 2060.

“This will take multi-party and engagement with authorities,” he says. “And the company and its leadership will be open to innovative contracting in order to treat the larger population. I will do everything I can in order to disrupt from the old models of fee-for-service that have certainly demonstrated their limitation in terms of treating a broader population.”

Watch the video above for more.

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