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Biogen Taps a Deals Expert in Latest C-Suite Appointment

With exciting prospects ahead, Biogen Inc. has appointed Adam Keeney as head of corporate development to help expand its pipeline through strategic deals.

Dr Keeney, who has a wealth of experience in deal-making, having worked at Johnson & Johnson and the Swiss drugmaker Sanofi, most recently held a four-year position as the Chief Executive Officer at Inflammasome Therapeutics’s UK subsidiary NodThera.

In a statement, the company’s CEO, Chris Viehbacher, announced that the new head of Business Development will focus on expanding Biogen’s strategy, primarily through external collaborations.

Keeney’s appointment is the latest of a spate of personnel changes made by Viehbacher in a bid to lead Biogen past the challenges characterized by its underwhelming Alzheimer’s drug. This January, Priya Singhal was appointed the Head of Development and Interim Research Chief after Al Sandrock left the company, upon which Viehbacher split R&D into two separate functions.

It has yet to be made clear when Adam Keeney will begin with collaboration, as Viehbacher suggested that Biogen would execute more deliberate business development initiatives than in the past. 

Keeney is set to assume the new role as Biogen’s BD from April 17.

Prior to joining the UK biotech NodThera, Keeney worked in various business development roles at Johnson & Johnson and managed all corporate development activities at Sanofi Genzyme.

A timely appointment that could help Biogen fine-tune its BD goals

Adam Keeney’s arrival at Biogen comes at a strategic time. This is especially true as the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech sets its sights on expanding through deals under CEO Chris Viehbacher, a former Sanofi executive. 

Viehbacher was at the helm of the French multinational pharma from 2008 through 2014, during which he executed significant deals — mostly notably the $20 billion Genzyme buyout in 2011. 

He also oversaw the growth of a valuable partnership with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. This focus on deal-making likely influenced Keeney’s recruitment, who brings extensive deal experience into the mix. 

Unlike Sanofi, which usually focuses on big purchases and partnerships — a case in point is the recent $2.9 billion buyout of Provention Bio, small-scale research collaboration has historically been the hallmark of Biogen’s BD strategy. 

The biotech has typically avoided big buyouts, with the most significant acquisition to date being Nightstar Therapeutics, a gene-based therapy developer the company bought for $800 million in 2019.

But this could change dramatically under the new leadership of CEO Viehbacher, who has a reputation for his strategic approach towards blockbuster deals. 

Whether this will lead to a shift in Biogen’s M&A strategy is yet to be seen, but Adam Keeney’s appointment as BD is undoubtedly a sign of the company’s intention to go for big buyouts from now on.

When discussing M&A activity in San Francisco, the new CEO emphasized a cautious approach at Biogen’s #JPM2023 presentation, stating that deals would likely not happen until H2 2023. 

Viehbacher further elaborated that they would only consider acquisitions once all aspects of the company have been evaluated and organized, ensuring a smooth transition. Accordingly, he has been implementing a strategic review in which Biogen severed its collaborative agreements with research, development, and marketing partners.

For example, on March 17, Chris Viehbacher announced that Biogen will walk away from a collaborative agreement with Sangamo Therapeutics. When the company entered the strategic partnership in 2020, it made a substantial upfront payment of $125 million. In addition, the company committed up to $2.37 billion in milestones to secure access to 12 neurological disease gene targets with Sangamo. 

They jointly announced an extensive licensing collaboration to develop and market several drugs, including ST-502 for synucleinopathies linked to Parkinson’s disease and ST-501 for tauopathies such as Alzheimer’s disease. 

In addition to that, the collaboration involved the duo working towards several undisclosed therapy targets, including a neuromuscular endpoint and up to nine additional neurological disease targets. All of these treatments relied on Sangamo’s proprietary technology known as zinc finger protein (ZFP), delivered through adeno-associated virus (AAV) to modify the expression of critical genes involved in several neurological disorders.

Exploring Biogen’s changing approach to M&A strategy under Chris Viehbacher

During a recent biopharmaceutical industry conference, CEO Chris Viehbacher addressed the possibility of pursuing acquisitions, emphasizing the need to keenly evaluate the associated risks. 

He also informed the investors that, while he wouldn’t shy away from deals, they would significantly alter the company’s risk profile. Some people think Viehbacher is more receptive to deal-making than his predecessor Michel Vounatsos, who led Biogen between 2017 and 2022.

In February, during the company’s latest earnings call, Viehbacher acknowledged that Biogen has not historically considered acquisitions as a part of its growth strategy. 

However, he expressed that he was ready to pursue strategic deals and advised that the company would have missed an opportunity by hiring someone like him if they did not intend to pursue potential acquisitions. This highlights the company’s intention to potentially move toward a strategic purchase strategy in the future under his leadership.

Keeney is another executive with a strong focus on deal-making

Biogen’s recent appointment of Adam Keeney as Head of Corporate Development reflects the company’s eagerness to pursue strategic deals under the new stewardship of CEO Chris Viehbacher. 

Keeney brings a wealth of experience in biopharmaceutical strategy and business development, having previously served as Global Head of Business Development in Sanofi’s Genzyme unit.

The new BD head is expected to drive Biogen’s growth through strategic business deals, building the company’s pipeline of assets in various therapeutic areas, both early and late-stage. 

What Dr Adama Keeney brings to the fold

CEO Viehbacher has emphasized the importance of the Head of Corporate Development position and stated that Keeney’s appointment comes at a crucial time for the company. Keeney’s expertise in creating value through numerous transactions in his career will be instrumental in achieving Biogen’s strategic goals.

CEO Chris Viehbacher expressed his excitement about hiring Adam Keeney as the Head of Corporate Development, commenting on the importance of this position in advancing Biogen’s growth strategy during a critical time for the company. Keeney is renowned for leading and executing numerous successful deals in his career, with an impressive track record that made him a valuable addition to Biogen’s executive leadership team.

Keeney brings more than two decades of experience leading companies in the biotech and pharma industry, covering research and development, business development, and strategy. Before becoming the CEO of NodThera, a clinical-stage biotech firm that develops NLRP3 inflammasome inhibitors for a broad range of inflammatory ailments, he worked at Sanofi as the head of all of Sanofi Genzyme’s business development operations. He was responsible for a variety of early and late-stage deals across various therapeutic areas and formats.

Keeney has previously held various business development roles at Johnson & Johnson, where he started his career at H. Lundbeck A/S. He holds a Ph.D. in Neuropharmacology from the University of Nottingham, UK, and a Bachelor of Science in Neuropsychology from the University of Leeds, UK, showcasing his expertise in research and development. 

Biogen expects Keeney to focus on driving the company’s strategy, determining external collaborations, and uncovering opportunities for growth to lead the company toward a sustainable growth trajectory.

His Biogen’s appointment appears to be perfectly timed as the company gears up for a stronger second half, with industry analysts predicting an uptick in its business development activities. This reinforces the optimism that started when Chris Viehbacher was named CEO last year, hoping to lead the company towards a sustainable growth trajectory.

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