Multiple sclerosis medicines continue to be the mainstay of Biogen’s revenue despite its efforts to expand to other neurological indications. The drugmaker is returning to those MS roots, but with a different angle. Biogen is teaming up with startup MedRhythms in an alliance focused on developing a digital therapeutic to address the walking problems in patients who have the neuromuscular disorder.
MedRhythms’ approach is a type of music therapy. The Portland, Maine-based startup points to research showing that music taps into movement centers in a patient’s brain. This engagement with the body’s motor system improves walking ability and speed. The MedRhythms technology uses sensors attached to a patient’s shoes that calculate stride. The patient then walks, listening to music through headphones. Algorithms can adjust the music and its tempo in order to improve the patient’s walking speed.
MedRhythms has been developing its technology as a way to improve gait in a range of conditions including stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and MS. The startup said it is currently conducting two feasibility studies for the MS digital therapeutic, called MR-004. Depending on the results of the first study, the company said a clinical trial that could support an application seeking regulatory approval could begin soon.
MS continues to define Biogen’s drug portfolio. The company’s franchise of MS drugs generated more than $6 billion of the company’s $8.8 billion in 2021 revenue, according to its annual report. But sales of those products have been on a downward slide as they face competition from a growing number of generic products. The company’s efforts to diversify beyond MS include Spinraza, a spinal muscular atrophy drug that accounted for $1.9 billion in sales last year.
Alzheimer’s disease drug Aduhelm, however, has been a disappointment, generating just $3 million in 2021 sales and $2.8 million sales in the first quarter of 2022 following the drug’s accelerated FDA approval last June. In its Tuesday report of financial results from the quarter, Biogen said it would wind down it commercialization operations for Aduhelm, a move comes after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it would cover the drug only for those enrolled in clinical trials, a decision that severely limits the commercialization potential for the product. The company also announced that CEO Michel Vounatsos, the executive that spearheaded Biogen’s efforts to diversify beyond MS, will step down from the company but remain in his current role until a successor is named.
The Biogen and MedRhythms collaboration announced Thursday calls for the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based drugmaker to pay its new partner $3 million up front. If the digital therapeutic achieves development and commercialization milestones, MedRhythms could earn up to $117.5 million more. The startup is also eligible to receive royalties from Biogen’s sales of an MS digital therapeutic commercialized from the alliance.
“As part of our aspiration in digital health, together with MedRhythms we aim to advance a new, innovative treatment option for people living with MS that may help address walking impairment, a common issue that impacts their overall quality of life,” Martin Dubuc, head of Biogen digital health, said in a prepared statement. “Pioneering in digital therapeutics exemplifies Biogen’s commitment to advance novel therapies that we hope will improve outcomes for people living with MS.”
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