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A test tube is seen in front of displayed Biogen logo in this illustration taken on, December 1, 2021.

Dado Ruvic | Reuters

Biogen on Wednesday reported first-quarter profit that topped estimates as the company’s cost-cutting efforts took hold and sales of its closely watched Alzheimer’s drug, Leqembi, came in higher than expected.

Biogen and Eisai‘s Leqembi became the first drug found to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease to win approval in the U.S. in July. The treatment’s launch has been sluggish, but uptake appeared to accelerate towards the end of the first quarter.

Leqembi brought in about $19 million in sales for the quarter, up from the $10 million the drug generated last year. That blows past the $11 million analysts had expected, according to estimates compiled by FactSet. 

The number of patients on the therapy increased nearly 2.5 times since the end of 2023, according to Biogen. The company added that the number of new patients who started Leqembi jumped in March, making up more than 20% of the cumulative patients now on the treatment. 

Biogen did not provide a specific number of patients using Leqembi. But in February, Biogen CEO Chris Viehbacher told reporters that there were around 2,000 patients currently on Leqembi. Biogen and Eisai had previously aimed to treat 10,000 patients by March, but indicated in February that it would not meet the target.

Biogen is seeing an “awful lot of momentum” in the Leqembi rollout and expects quarter-over-quarter growth in the number of patients, but that increase may not be linear, Viehbacher said during an earnings call Wednesday. He noted that Biogen plans to expand its U.S. marketing force by 30% to support Leqembi’s launch.

Bottlenecks related to Leqembi’s requirements, such as twice-monthly infusions and regular brain scans, have slowed the uptake of the drug, he added.

The company hopes the drug and other newly launched products will drive growth as it cuts costs and sees sales plummet for its multiple sclerosis therapies, some of which face generic competition.

Shares of Biogen rose 6% on Wednesday following the results.

Here’s what Biogen reported for the first quarter compared with what Wall Street was expecting, based on a survey of analysts by LSEG: 

  • Earnings per share: $3.67 adjusted vs. $3.45 expected
  • Revenue: $2.29 billion vs. $2.31 billion expected

The biotech company booked sales of $2.29 billion for the quarter, down 7% from the same period a year ago. It reported net income of $393.4 million, or $2.70 per share, for the first quarter, up from net income of $387.9 million, or $2.67 per share, for the same period a year ago. 

Adjusting for one-time items, the company reported earnings of $3.67 per share.

Biogen reiterated its full-year 2024 adjusted earnings forecast of $15 to $16 per share. Analysts surveyed by LSEG had expected full-year earnings guidance of $15.49 per share. 

The company also reiterated its 2024 sales guidance of a low- to mid-single-digit percentage decline compared with last year.

Newly launched drugs top estimates

Apart from Leqembi, investors also have their eyes on other newly launched drugs. 

That includes Skyclarys, brought in by Biogen’s acquisition of Reata Pharmaceuticals in July. That drug notched $78 million in first-quarter revenue.

Analysts had expected sales of $68.8 million, according to FactSet estimates. 

The Food and Drug Administration cleared Skyclarys last year, making it the first approved treatment for Friedreich’s ataxia, a rare inherited degenerative disease that can impair walking and coordination in children as young as 5. In February, European Union regulators approved Skyclarys for the treatment of Friedreich’s ataxia in patients ages 16 and up. 

More than 1,100 patients in the U.S. and 300 in the EU are now taking Skyclarys, Biogen executives said during the earnings call on Wednesday.

Biogen has also partnered with Sage Therapeutics on the first pill for postpartum depression, which won FDA approval in August. But the agency declined to clear the drug for major depressive disorder, which is a far larger market. 

Biogen said that pill, called Zurzuvae, generated first-quarter sales of $12 million. Analysts had expected just $5 million in sales of that drug, FactSet said.

Multiple sclerosis drugs, other treatments

Meanwhile, Biogen’s first-quarter revenue from multiple sclerosis products fell 4% to $1.08 billion as some of its therapies face competition from cheaper generics. 

The company’s once-blockbuster drug Tecfidera, which is facing competition from a generic rival, posted revenue of $254.3 million in the first quarter, down from $274.5 million from the same period a year ago. 

Still, that came in higher than analysts’ estimate of $227.7 million, according to FactSet. 

Vumerity, an oral medication for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis, generated $127.5 million in sales. That came in below analysts’ estimates of $137.9 million, FactSet estimates said. 

More CNBC health coverage

Biogen’s rare disease drugs recorded $423.9 million in sales, down from the $443.3 million in the same period a year ago. 

Spinraza, a medication used to treat a rare neuromuscular disorder called spinal muscular atrophy, recorded $341.3 million in sales. That came under analysts’ estimate of $415.1 million in revenue, according to FactSet. 

Biogen said the timing of Spinraza shipments and increased competition affected first-quarter revenue comparisons outside of the U.S.

The company’s biosimilar drugs booked $196.9 million in sales, up slightly from the $192.4 million reported during the year-earlier period. Analysts had expected sales of $192.5 million from those medicines.

Correction: Skyclarys had $78 million in first-quarter revenue. An earlier version misstated the quarter.

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