By Manas Mishra and Sriparna Roy
(Reuters) -Biogen on Tuesday forecast flat 2024 product revenue as top-selling drugs face tough competition and sales of newer treatments take off slowly, but said there are signs its new Alzheimer's drug is gaining traction.
Shares of the U.S. biotech fell 7% as it missed Wall Street expectations for quarterly revenue and projected sales for this year that several analysts found underwhelming.
Sales of pricey spinal muscular atrophy drug Spinraza, which is dealing with fresh competition, also missed estimates.
"We don't expect great things over the next year," said BTIG analyst Thomas Shrader.
Since CEO Christopher Viehbacher took the helm at Biogen in late 2022, the company has cut jobs, acquired rare disease drugmaker Reata for $6.5 billion and abandoned controversial Alzheimer's drug Aduhelm, as he works to steer the company back to growth.
Biogen is counting on newer medicines, including a second approved Alzheimer's drug Leqembi developed with Japanese partner Eisai, to drive growth for the next few years.
Based on data from an Alzheimer's Association patient registry, Biogen estimates that as of last week there were 3,800 patients prescribed or close to being prescribed Leqembi, an increase of about 56% from December.
"So we are clearly seeing that there is demand for the product," Viehbacher said on a conference call.
Wall Street analysts no longer expect the drug to hit a target of 10,000 patients by March after Eisai last week said there were only 2,000 patients taking Leqembi so far.
"We have always guided investors to the fact that this would be a progressive ramp and that's what we're seeing. And we continue to believe in the long-term importance of Leqembi," Viehbacher said.
Biogen said it and Eisai plan to increase the U.S. Leqembi sales force by 30% as they seek to boost sales.
"That's a meaningful expansion. You wouldn't be doing that if you felt that the product was going to make $10 million in a quarter," said William Blair analyst Myles Minter
"So the debate is all about: is Leqembi that massive $6 billion plus product, or is it something that's going to remain niche," Minter said in an interview.
Biogen forecast a 2024 adjusted profit of $15 to $16 per share, representing an increase of 5% at the midpoint. But that was 15 cents below Wall Street estimates of $15.65 per share, according to LSEG data.
Revenue fell 6.2% to $2.39 billion in the fourth quarter, missing estimates of $2.47 billion.
Sales of aging multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera came in at $244.3 million, below Wall Street estimates of $252.3 million.
Spinraza, which is facing competition from rival drugs from Roche and Novartis, brought in sales of $412.6 million, versus estimates of $442.2 million.
Sales of Skyclarys, the drug Biogen gained through its Reata acquisition, were $55.9 million in the first few months of the drug's launch, shy of estimates for $58.8 million.
(Reporting by Sriparna Roy and Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Bill Berkrot)