Biogen Inc (NASDAQ:BIIB) has hired Michael Ehlers as the head of its research and development unit. Until his hiring by Biogen, Ehlers was Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE)’s chief neuroscientist as well as VP for biotherapeutics research and development. Perhaps the latest talent outflow adds to the multiple pains that Pfizer has suffered in recent years. The company was recently forced to pull out of a deal that would have seen shift its corporate headquarters to Ireland in a tax inversion transaction.
Hiring of Ehlers sees Biogen Inc (NASDAQ:BIIB) fill a critical position that has been lying vacant for nearly nine months. Ehlers, 47, is coming in to replace former Biogen head of R&D, Doug Williams, who left the company to lead a biotech startup.
What is Ehlers bringing to the table?
Ehlers is a biotechnology veteran. Before joining Pfizer, he was a professor of neurobiology at the Duke University Medical Center. When he joined Pfizer, he rose through the ranks, replacing exiting executives to head one of the drug giant’s most critical units: neuroscience and pain research division. The programs that fell under the purview of Ehlers included researching drugs for devastating conditions such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Biogen also has research programs focused on these disease areas.
With Ehlers on board, Biogen Inc (NASDAQ:BIIB) is hoping that it can expand its pipeline and accelerate the development of its various candidates. Biogen‘s pipeline currently include a compound called aducanumab, which is being development as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. There is also opicinumab, which is primarily targeted at people afflicted by multiple sclerosis. Later this year, Biogen is expected to report Phase 2 trial results of the compounds for the cited conditions.
A great fit
Biogen Inc (NASDAQ:BIIB)’s CEO, George Scangos, has described Ehlers as a great fit for the company. Although the position of R&D chief fell vacant in July last year, Scangos said they took their time to search the globe for the perfect talent and they found the right combination of the talents there were looking for in Ehlers.
A weighty assignment
But Ehlers, whose work at Biogen Inc (NASDAQ:BIIB) officially begins in May, is coming to find an overflowing in-tray. The company is battling shrinking sales of its lead product Tecfidera amid runaway costs that have seen R&D budget sometimes squeezed.