Biogen Idec Tysabri Sales Fall Shy of Street Expectations

Biogen Idec’s fortunes rise and fall on largely on the performance of sales of natalizumab (Tysabri), and the latest Tysabri sales trends are disappointing investors.

Biogen, which has headquarters in Cambridge, MA, and significant operations in San Diego, said today that the multiple sclerosis drug generated $227 million in worldwide sales during the first quarter. That might sound good, since it’s a 44 percent increase over a year ago, but it’s quite a bit short of the $246 million average sales estimate that Wall Street analysts had predicted.

Even though Biogen and its marketing partner, Elan, have started playing up the advantage Tysabri has in effectiveness over other MS medications, the rate of growth in new prescriptions isn’t fast enough, said Christopher Raymond, an analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co., in a note to clients earlier this week. The drug is now being taken by about 40,000 patients worldwide, about 3,000 more than the previous tally three months earlier.

“Patient trends remain concerning,” Raymond said in his report.

Biogen reaffirmed in its financial report that it can make up for this, and still hit its goal of generating a profit of $4 a share this year. But how this drug performs in the market, and whether a fast growth rate can outweigh the ever-present risk of patients getting rare, but often lethal brain infections, remains on top of investors’ minds. It could also go a long way toward determining whether the incumbent Biogen directors maintain a firm grip on the company, or whether billionaire investor Carl Icahn will get his way and take over four of the 13 board seats when those seats come up for election at the next Biogen board meeting, which is still unscheduled but expected to take place in the next several months.

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