Biogen Idec, which makes multiple sclerosis drugs Tysabri and Avonex, plans to build a portfolio of products to treat noncancerous blood disorders, according to Reuters.
The company's goal is to reduce its dependence on its MS products and build a new franchise around its experimental drugs to treat hemophilia. Biogen has two hemophilia products in phase III development.
"If we are going to build a commercial infrastructure that is going to call on hematologists, then we can think about other products in this area," George Scangos, Biogen's CEO, told Reuters. "We are actively looking to build a hematology franchise, and will consider acquisitions as well as in-licensing."
Weston, Mass.-based Biogen, which ended 2010 with $2 billion in cash and marketable securities, has sometimes been criticized for being too conservative, emphasizing stock buybacks over new product acquisitions. Between 2004 and 2010, Biogen returned $8 billion to shareholders in the form of stock repurchases.
Scangos, who took over as CEO last July, said the company will continue to buy back shares but also plans to be more aggressive in buying new products, especially those in early and mid-stage development.
"I don't think the two are mutually exclusive," he said. "We don't need any more phase III products right now, but we don't have enough compounds in phase I and phase II to generate a robust phase III pipeline some years down the road."
There are multiple treatments on the market for hemophilia. Currently the global market for one treatment, Factor VIII, products is about $5 billion, while the market for another, Factor IX, is worth about $1 billion. But the drugs, in general, must be infused three or more times a week.
Biogen's Factor IX product is designed to stay in the body up to three times longer than existing drugs, meaning patients would require an infusion only once a week. The company does not have data yet on exactly how much longer its Factor VIII product lasts.
While patients are typically reluctant to switch products, Scangos said he believes the attraction of fewer infusions will be a powerful motivator.