Q&A: Biogen Idec CEO George Scangos

What differentiates Biogen from other big biotech companies?
Focus, execution, and luck, to be honest. Our historical strength has been in multiple sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease that results from an autoimmune attack. As a result, over the years we’ve built up great expertise in neurodegenerative diseases and in autoimmune diseases. My mantra when I came in was: “Don’t waste money.” Don’t spend it on projects that are poorly conceived, poorly executed, or noncompetitive. So we eliminated a lot of those projects. We’re more efficient, more decisive than we used to be. We’ve been working hard on the culture to get people to think outside of the box, take calculated risks where it’s appropriate, be decisive, be accountable, listen.
Tell us about the drug pipeline.
The two Phase 3 trials for BG-12 [Biogen’s experimental pill for multiple sclerosis] look great. BG-12 has the potential to be a meaningful new drug for patients with MS. That’s exciting. This year we have three more drugs whose pivotal Phase 3 trials will [report data]. The early-stage pipeline, because we weeded it out so dramatically, doesn’t have enough compounds. Now we have seven projects in it. That’s still not enough, but it’s almost doubled.
What keeps you up at night?
There are lots of things to worry about: the global macroeconomic situation, the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, health-care reform in the U.S. And you can worry about company-specific things. We could screw up. We have this great set of assets, and we’ve got to execute. I don’t want to seem self-satisfied or complacent. We’re not. We are working incredibly hard to make sure that we execute on these things that we have in front of us right now. I don’t think all of our projects are going to work in Phase 3. That’s not realistic. But they won’t all fail. That’s not realistic, either.

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