The chief executive officer of Biogen, a multinational pharmaceutical manufacturer that is specialized in developing treatments for neurological and neurodegenerative disorders, passed through Beirut on a visit to the Middle East region this summer with an entourage that included communications specialists and gophers. During his visit, Michel Vounatsos met with Algorithm, Biogen’s local partner company, and had encounters with public sector officials and academic institutions. The company moreover sought a favorable local media coverage of the Lebanon visit.

“I fundamentally believe in long=term potential of the region, the building up of the middle class, and the building of sustainable health systems with access to information. We count a lot on Lebanon because of historic connections, because of educational strength, because of Lebanese scientific influence in the region, and also in terms of clinical care,” he said in an interview.

According to Vounatsos, Biogen is a high-risk and high-reward biotech company whose global revenue – $12.3 billion in 2017 – “comes to 100 percent from neuroscientific research and from medication that is very complex and expensive”. He said that the company invests approximately $2 billion annually in neuroscientific research and is actively seeking to identify centers of research excellence around the world for partnership opportunities.

Vounatsos described all stakeholders in the medical field whom he encountered in Lebanon, such as the Ministry of Public Health as “well-intended within the restraints they face” and said: “What we want to see is recognition of the value of innovation that will stimulate investment in research and development also in Lebanon.”

About the difficulty that people in this country might encounter in financing treatment of rare conditions such as spinal muscular atrophy, for which Biogen developed a pioneering treatment procedure where a first injection costs $125,000 and a series is needed, he declared that the biotech manufacturer is “sensitive to constraints and financial situations of countries”. According to Vounatsos Biogen believes that solutions for such extreme cost dilemmas can be found if public authorities in a country demonstrate their engagement for treating members of their population.