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Back to its future: Biogen drops Idec from corporate name

New/old brand reflects company’s progress on core areas of drug research, CEO says

Company executives disclosed that they have jettisoned the Idec from their corporate moniker and returned to the original name: Biogen.
Company executives disclosed that they have jettisoned the Idec from their corporate moniker and returned to the original name: Biogen.BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS/FILE

The high-profile 2003 merger of Biogen Inc. and Idec Pharmaceuticals Corp. combined two of the hottest brands in biotechnology. It created a Cambridge-based company, Biogen Idec Inc., that grew to become one of the world’s best-known and most valuable drug makers.

A dozen years later, company executives will disclose Monday that they have jettisoned the Idec from their corporate moniker and returned to the original name: Biogen.

The name change and a new logo at Biogen may seem like unremarkable corporate developments in an industry focused on exciting medical breakthroughs. But they reflect some of the biggest themes driving biotechs — changing commercial priorities and shifting power inside companies that bet huge sums on risky product development.

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Chief executive George Scangos wrote in a note to employees that the Biogen name change was meant to spotlight the company’s “remarkable progress.”

“We are at an exciting moment in our history, at the forefront of pioneering science, with possibilities for significant worldwide growth and a united team,” he wrote.

Biogen, founded in 1978, calls itself the world’s oldest independent biotech. The company’s merger with Idec was intended to broaden its research scope by adding programs that were largely focused on cancer medicines.

But the company abandoned most of Idec’s research shortly after Scangos arrived at Biogen in 2010 and refocused the business on the core areas of neurology, immunology, and hematology. Under Scangos’s predecessor, James Mullen, activist investors including Carl Icahn argued the company’s research had become too far-flung.

Biogen today is the world’s largest maker of multiple sclerosis therapies, with several of its drugs generating sales of more than $1 billion annually. It scored a coup in a heavily scrutinized early-stage clinical study, unveiled Friday, which showed the potential of an experimental drug in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in a small group of patients.

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When the merger deal was structured in 2003, San Diego-based Idec technically acquired the larger Biogen, though the company headquarters and management remained in Cambridge.

“The old Biogen and the old Idec each contributed meaningfully to our current success,” Scangos wrote on Biogen’s website, “but today we are a new company, distinct from either parent, and we hope not only to carry on our heritage of excellence, but to forge new ground. Our name is intended to acknowledge our heritage but also to create a new image to reflect our new reality.”

He added that “Idec’s innovation will always be part of our history, with its leaders and scientists honored in our corporate headquarters.”

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Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.