Biogen recruits Pfizer neuroscience star Michael Ehlers as new R&D chief

The bellwether biotech Biogen has wooed a top investigator from Pfizer to take over as head of R&D. The company reported this morning that Michael Ehlers, who had been running the neuroscience and pain research operations at Pfizer, is stepping into the role of executive vice president, R&D.

Ehlers, a former Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Duke, had specialized in neuronal organelles and the trafficking of neurotransmitter receptors.

His background in the Cambridge/Boston hub working for Pfizer ($PFE) should prove to be a nice fit with Biogen ($BIIB), which has carved out an ambitious set of leading–and notably risky–programs on Alzheimer’s and other tough diseases.

Biogen’s former R&D chief, Doug Williams, left last summer to run a biotech startup. And Ehlers is benefiting once again from the migration of senior biotech execs into startup roles. He was promoted at Pfizer close to a year ago after José-Carlos Gutiérrez-Ramos left his prominent job as head of BioTherapeutics R&D in Cambridge, MA, to take the reins at Synlogic.

Just last fall Biogen underwent a wrenching reorganization, laying off 850 staffers and narrowing its R&D focus after the numbers on its MS operations disappointed Wall Street. But it circled the wagons in Alzheimer’s, focusing on aducanumab, a Phase III beta-amyloid antibody that has produced mixed but encouraging early-stage data.

Biogen is also collaborating with Isis Pharmaceuticals ($ISIS) on spinal muscular atrophy, a next-gen MS drug in midstage development, a Phase III program for inflammatory bowel disease and a late-stage treatment for trigeminal neuralgia, a rare disease.

“Biogen is a recognized leader in applying the highest quality science to critical health issues in neurodegenerative and rare diseases,” said Ehlers.

John Carroll

www.fiercebiotech.com