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Biogen shares retreat amid executive shuffle, analyst warnings on drug data

Stock analysts on Friday suggested the data that Biogen plans to release July 22 at an Alzheimer’s conference carry risks for investors.associated press/biogen

Biogen Inc. shares fell nearly 3 percent Friday amid the resignation of the company’s top research executive and a pair of reports by industry analysts about upcoming new clinical data on an experimental drug for Alzheimer’s patients.

Biogen stock fell $10.73 per share to $388.56 — even as the broader stock market and other biotech shares posted solid gains for the day.

The company said research chief Douglas Williams, who joined Biogen in 2011 to lead a restructuring of its drug discovery focus, will depart at the end of July to lead an as-yet unnamed cancer diagnostics and therapy startup.

A pair of senior vice presidents, chief medical officer Alfred Sandrock and chief scientific officer Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas, will take over responsibility for research and development, the company said. A spokeswoman said neither Williams nor his successors would comment.

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Biogen became the state’s most valuable company on the strength of its drugs to treat multiple sclerosis and hemophilia. But the company got an added stock market boost in March when it published early-stage clinical results showing an experimental drug slowed the mental decline of a small number of Alzheimer’s patients.

Two stock analysts issued reports Friday suggesting follow-up data Biogen plans to release July 22 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Washington, D.C., carries risks for investors.

Both analysts, however, maintained their “outperform” rating on Biogen’s stock. Neither specifically predicted negative information from the company’s ongoing study of patients with early indications and mild cases of the neurodegenerative disorder.

But the update on the Alzheimer’s drug candidate could “substantially alter the probability of success” for upcoming late-stage trials, as calculated by investors, and potentially move Biogen shares up or down as much as $50 each, analyst Eric Schmidt of Cowen & Co. wrote in a note to investors. Schmidt said his forecast “somewhat” favored a positive outcome but “we lack conviction.”

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Michael Yee, a managing director at investment bank RBC Capital Markets, said in a separate report he, too, believes “the data is probably skewed positive at this point.”

But he added a cautious note. “Because [Wall Street] has been unsure what the data will look like . . . the stock has been a laggard since the initial big spike . . . back in March.”


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