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Biogen said on Tuesday that it would replace its chief executive and effectively give up on marketing a high-profile Alzheimer’s drug that has been a commercial failure since its controversial approval nearly a year ago.
Michel Vounatsos, who has led the drug maker for over five years and presided over the approval and launch of the drug, known as Aduhelm, will remain in his role until a successor is appointed, Biogen said.
Biogen said it planned to “substantially eliminate” its spending on the drug after Medicare officially decided last month to sharply limit its coverage of Aduhelm.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Aduhelm in June. It was the first new treatment for Alzheimer’s in nearly two decades. It had been widely expected to become a blockbuster drug within several years, generating billions of dollars annually for Biogen. But the approval was overshadowed by concern about the drug’s unproven benefits and serious safety risks, as well as about the process by which the F.D.A. had greenlighted it.
Doctors, insurers, and patients and their families have not embraced Aduhelm. On Tuesday, Biogen reported that the drug had brought in just $2.8 million in revenue in the first three months of this year, after generating only $3 million in 2021. Biogen initially priced the drug at $56,000 per year for the average patient before halving the cost in response to weak early sales.
Aduhelm had been expected to strain government health budgets. But Medicare decided to pay for the drug only for people who receive it as participants in a clinical trial. Last month, Biogen said it would withdraw its application to market the drug in the European Union after drug reviewers indicated that it was unlikely to win approval.