Ex-Biogen R&D head Sandrock takes the top job at Voyager

by Stephen Riddle

Voyager Therapeutics has lost little time in elevating Al Sandrock to the chief executive position, with the appointment coming just a few weeks after he joined the biotech’s board.

Sandrock announced he was ending a 23-year career at Biogen last November, in the wake of the company’s controversial approval and disastrous rollout of Alzheimer’s therapy Aduhelm (aducanumab).

At the time, 64-year-old Sandrock said he planned to retire, but he resurfaced with a seat on the board at Voyager last month, plus a role on an executive committee alongside interim CEO Michael Higgins and interim chief scientific officer Glenn Pierce.

Now he is at the helm of Voyager, tasked with navigating a course for its gene therapy candidates through to regulatory approval, after a string of safety scares for therapies based on adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors.

Voyager suffered a difficult couple of years in which it lost a series of partners on key pipeline projects – including Sanofi’s Genzyme, AbbVie and Neurocrine Biosciences – that led to a change of strategy and a focus on a new generation of AAV vectors designed to have improved safety.

The biotech has enjoyed a renaissance since then, signing a $630 million alliance with Pfizer last October and following that up with a $1.7 billion partnership with Novartis earlier this month focused on neurological diseases.

Both deals involve Voyager’s TRACER capsids, which are designed to target cells and tissues in the body more effectively, allowing the dose of gene therapy to be reduced and hopefully fewer side effects than conventional AAV-delivered therapies

Sandrock’s time at Biogen was marred by Aduhelm, but that belies a successful time at the company during which he was instrumental in bringing a string of blockbuster therapies to market, including multiple sclerosis therapies Tysabri (natalizumab) and Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate) and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) drug Spinraza (nusinersen).

At Voyager he replaces Higgins, who has been interim CEO since June 2021 and will remain as chairman of the board.

“I’m honoured to lead Voyager, a company with the promise to pioneer a new frontier in modern medicine and help make AAV gene therapy a new standard of patient care for many diseases,” said Sandrock.

“Years of dedicated research by the Voyager team has led to exciting progress in the field; the next generation of novel AAV capsids with enhanced tissue tropisms has the potential to widen the therapeutic window of gene therapy for a broad range of diseases,” he added.

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