[Updated 12/6/11 10:35 am. See below.] Today Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) and Seoul, Korea-based conglomerate Samsung announced that they are teaming up to develop and market biosimilars—low-cost versions of biotech drugs that are losing their patent protection. The two companies will form a joint venture, based in Korea, which will be funded by $255 million from Samsung and $45 million from Biogen. Biogen, based in Weston, MA, will take a 15 percent stake in the venture.
[Material added to provide further details on Eidetica.] Biogen has long hinted at its interest in biosimilars. In 2009, Xconomy reported that the company had quietly set up a Swiss subsidiary called Eidetica to develop and manufacture biosimilars. A spokeswoman for Biogen told Xconomy today that the company started Eidetica to explore biosimilars but discontinued the initiative. “We are not currently pursuing any biosimilars strategy on our own outside of this [Samsung] joint venture,” she says.
Biogen hasn’t said much else about its biosimilars strategy, but in January of this year, CEO George Scangos told Bloomberg that he expected them to constitute “a meaningful revenue stream” and that the company was working on several biosimilar molecules. Biogen said today that the Samsung joint venture would not pursue biosimilar versions of proprietary Biogen drugs.
Biogen is the latest in a string of companies to aggressively pursue biosimilars. In October, Michael Kamarck of Merck (NYSE: MRK) told Xconomy that his company had embarked on a multifaceted plan to develop biosimilar versions of several blockbuster drugs, including Amgen’s filgrastim (Neupogen) and pegfilgrastim (Neulasta). Kamarck reiterated Merck’s commitment to biosimilars at the company’s R&D briefing for analysts in November.
Samsung may seem an unlikely partner for Biogen in this latest endeavor. But in fact, in May 2010, Samsung declared biotech to be one of five new strategic businesses that would drive its growth going forward, and it committed to invest $2 billion into the sector by 2020.
Biogen Idec did not immediately respond to a request for comment on today’s announcement. The price of Biogen’s stock, at $11.79 per share, was unchanged in pre-market trading.