Slow Sales of Alzheimer's Drug Costing $50K a Year Partially Blamed on Supply Chain Issues

Biogen's new Alzheimer's drug, Aduhelm, brought in an unexpectedly low $300,000 in sales during its first full quarter on the market. The company blamed the tepid debut on coverage questions and doctor concerns, the Associated Press reported.

CEO Michel Vounatsos said Wednesday that sales of the drug have been challenged due to a health care system that "remains a major bottleneck" in keeping the treatment from patients.

Aduhelm, an infused drug, is the first major new Alzheimer's treatment in more than 20 years, and it has been touted as a breakthrough treatment. It works by clearing the brain plaque thought to play a role in Alzheimer's disease.

Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Aduhelm in June for patients with mild symptoms or who were in the early stages of the disease, some medical professionals have been hesitant about its use.

A major sticking point for some care providers was the prohibitive cost of Aduhelm, which carries a price tag of more than $50,000 annually. Questions about the scientific studies behind the drug have also been cited as a concern for doctors. Several major medical centers have not yet committed to using Aduhelm.

During a call to discuss the Biogen's third quarter, Vounatsos said the company is "working to improve the community's understanding of our clinical data."

"We continue to believe in Aduhelm's long-term potential," he added.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Biogen's new Alzheimer's drug got off to a slow sales start. Above, a sign for the biotechnology company Biogen on a building in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 18, 2017. Getty

An analyst asked if Biogen leaders have thought about changing the drug's price. The CEO said that while "fine tuning" the price is always an option, that has not come up as a primary concern in market research.

Biogen, which developed Aduhelm with Japan's Eisai Co., also emphasizes that it has financial assistance programs for patients who struggle to afford Aduhelm.
A big factor in patient affordability will be whether or how Medicare decides to cover Aduhelm, a decision expected by next April. The federal program for people over age 65 is expected to cover most of the patients who will be eligible for the drug.

Biogen leaders said Wednesday that they expect Aduhelm sales to accelerate after that decision. But even then, they expect use of the drug to grow gradually.

In the meantime, they report progress as treatment centers figure out how to diagnose, treat and then monitor patients on Aduhelm, an undertaking more complex than what is required for other Alzheimer's treatments.

A total of 120 sites have infused at least one patient, which is more than double what the company counted about six weeks ago.

But it's also far fewer than the 900 sites the company has said it expected to be ready shortly after U.S. regulators approved the drug.

Other countries and the European Union also are reviewing the drug.

Aduhelm has generated about $2 million in sales so far this year. Company officials attributed the $300,000 recorded for the third quarter in part to drug wholesalers drawing down inventory they had purchased the previous quarter.

Analysts who follow Biogen had been expecting as much as $16 million or $17 million in Aduhelm sales for the quarter, Mizuho Securities USA analyst Salim Syed said, adding that investors anticipated a much lower figure.

Biogen expects Aduhelm to have a minimal impact on its performance in 2021. The drug maker raised its annual revenue and profit forecasts for the year on Wednesday after reporting a better-than-expected third quarter.

Biogen, which also makes the multiple sclerosis treatment Tecfidera, now expects adjusted earnings of $18.85 to $19.35 per share on $10.8 billion to $10.9 billion in revenue.

Analysts expect earnings of $18.49 per share on $10.74 billion in revenue, according to FactSet.

Shares of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Biogen Inc. slipped 65 cents to $267.48 Wednesday afternoon, while broader indexes rose slightly.

The stock price had soared about 45 percent and climbed past $400 after Aduhelm received FDA approval in June. But the shares have since shed most of that gain.

This image provided by Biogen on June 7, 2021, shows a vial and packaging for the drug Aduhelm. The first new Alzheimer’s treatment in more than 20 years was hailed as a breakthrough when regulators approved it in June of 2021, but its rollout has been slowed by questions about its price and how well it works. Biogen via AP, File