Biogen has reported third-quarter sales of just $300,000 for its controversial new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, falling far short of analysts’ expectation of $10m, as the company insists it still believes in the long-term potential of the treatment.
The drug, which costs $56,000 per patient per year, was approved by US regulators in June, becoming the first new treatment for Alzheimer’s in almost two decades that purports to slow the development of the neurological disease.
However healthcare providers and insurers have been slow to embrace the drug, delaying purchasing decisions amid concerns over its high cost and doubts over its efficacy in treating the disease.
Michel Vounatsos, Biogen chief executive, said on Wednesday that the US healthcare system remained a key bottleneck, in particular given pending decision by Medicare — the government healthcare plan for people aged over 65 years — on whether it will provide reimbursement for the drug. This decision was not expected until April, he added.
“Keep in mind this will delay access for many patients by approximately 300 days from approval,” said Vounatsos.
“Every day that passes we estimate that over 1,000 Americans move from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s dementia, and therefore may no longer be appropriate for initiation of treatment with Aduhelm.”
Biogen hopes the treatment will become a blockbuster drug capable of boosting the company’s revenue at a time when many of its existing products face competition. But Aduhelm’s approval has provoked a wave of controversy, with some scientists arguing there is scant scientific evidence that it actually works.
Vounatsos told analysts he believed in the data presented by the company and insisted it would publish more in coming months aimed at persuading doctors to take up the treatment. He played down the price of the drug as a factor deterring its uptake but added that the company retained the option to “fine-tune” pricing.
Some analysts reacted to the company’s presentation by downgrading their estimates for 2022 sales of Aduhelm.
Umer Raffat, analyst at Evercore ISI, said the drug was likely to generate about $200m in sales next year, significantly below analysts’ consensus estimate of $1bn.