Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Notes from JP Morgan: Mullen's Last Laugh

For his final appearance at JP Morgan as Biogen Idec CEO, Jim Mullen didn't have close to a full house in the big ballroom at the St. Francis late Tuesday afternoon. But far from Slim Jim to go out with a whimper. He highlighted Tysabri hitting the $1 billion mark in sales in 2009 and gloated, in his own low-key way, that the multiple sclerosis treatment will "continue to surprise people." Not to mention help them do yoga.

Mullen and his lieutenants also said that a test for JC virus, which causes the brain infection PML linked to Tysabri, will be available the first half of this year. (The test was invented at Elan, Biogen's co-owner of Tysabri.) Biogen hasn't yet decided how to distribute it, but it shouldn't be expensive to produce, said VP of neurology R&D Al Sandrock, and it might even have utility beyond Tysabri patients. Note that a positive result on the test won't necessary exclude patients from Tysabri; the JC virus isn't the only risk factor for PML.

Mullen got in a tongue-in-cheek parting shot at the conference itself. He not only complained about the typical claustrophobia in the narrow hotel hallways that make you scared you'll "burn to death if there's a fire," he then pivoted to note that it's not nearly as crowded this year. Then in his post-speech Q&A, Mullen tweaked the roomful of investors and media when no one ventured a first question. "It's a docile crowd this year," he said, mindful no doubt that some of the people in the room were probably responsible for Biogen's little stock bump the day Mullen announced he would step down in June.

He also got in a parting shot at health care reform -- at least the comparative effectiveness part of it. The idea is great on paper, he said, but then it turns into something like Great Britain's NICE, which in Mullen's view is a big bureaucratic swamp that slows down drugs and separates physicians from the decisions they need to make about their patients.

He won't get a parting shot at Facet Biotech, the Biogen licensing partner that successfully resisted Biogen's hostile bid last year. Any chance for another run at Facet, Jim? "We have no plans to do more than we've done or said publicly at this point."

Not exactly definitive, but we'll take that as a "no."

So what will Biogen look for in its next CEO? Mullen said he's not on the four-member search committee, but he recommended someone "who looks exactly like me but with more hair." He who can laugh at himself can truly laugh last.
(An earlier version of this story misidentified the inventor of the JC virus assay.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Biogen-developed JC virus test?

For your information, I believe Dr. Yednoski works for Elan.