Ex-Biogen R&D chief Al Sandrock lands CEO job at Voyager, taking over the Big Pharma darling in early days of its turnaround strategy

Al Sandrock, M.D., Ph.D., has identified the destination of his post-Biogen voyage. Months after leaving Biogen in the wake of the Aduhelm debacle, Sandrock has taken up the CEO position at Voyager Therapeutics, putting him in charge of a next-generation gene therapy play that has been attracting Big Pharma interest.

Sandrock retired as head of R&D at Biogen at the end of 2021, bringing a swift end to a 23-year tenure at the company that saw successes such as Tysabri, Tecfidera, Spinraza and Plegridy marred by the stench of the Aduhelm saga. Last month, Sandrock joined the board of directors at Voyager and became a part of a newly formed executive committee tasked with executing the biotech’s turnaround strategy.

Having gained a close look at Voyager, Sandrock has decided to commit the next phase of his career to the gene therapy biotech. Sandrock is replacing Michael Higgins, who served as interim CEO of Voyager in the wake of Andre Turenne’s departure to run a stealth Atlas Venture startup last summer. 

Higgins and interim Chief Scientific Officer Glenn Pierce, M.D., Ph.D., inherited a company that had seen its stock fall from above $27 to below $5 over two years amid setbacks such as a delay to its Huntington's disease candidate. Rather than plow on with their first-generation programs, Higgins and Pierce switched focus to new AAV capsids with superior transgene expression in the brain and vectorized antibodies.

Pfizer and Novartis provided early validation of the pivot, respectively inking deals to access the capsids in October and March. Now, Sandrock will take responsibility for running in-house programs to validate the technology in the clinic. 

“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. We intend to establish human proof of concept across a range of serious diseases, with an emphasis on neurological targets,” Sandrock said in a statement.

Pivoting has turned Voyager back into an early-stage biotech, with a preclinical gene silencing program in monogenic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and a vectorized antibody project targeting tauopathies now its most advanced candidates. But the shift in focus has also dragged Voyager out of the doldrums, with its stock rising 139% to above $8 over the past month.