Four months after Voyager Therapeutics’ chief and founder Steven Paul, M.D., said he would step down to become an “executive science adviser,” the neurological disease biotech has found a new leader.
And that man is Andre Turenne, who is becomes its new president and chief executive as of July 16, coming off a nearly 12-year stint at Genzyme and Sanofi. Most recently, he was the French Big Pharma’s senior VP, global head of business development and licensing, the guy responsible for partnering deal activities across all of Sanofi’s business units.
This is another tale of a Big Pharma executive seeking out biotech roles, and also comes amid a shake-up at Sanofi, which earlier this year saw ex-Roche veteran John Reed set to replace the retiring Elias Zerhouni as its R&D chief.
He takes over from Paul, an Eli Lilly veteran, who has been with the company since its inception six years ago, initially as president of R&D, then as president and CEO since September 2014. He will move to a new role focusing on preclinical discovery research and portfolio development.
Voyager, a 2014 Fierce 15 winner, announced the departure of Paul back in February, the same month in which AbbVie teamed up with Voyager on a tau protein-targeting program, paying $69 million upfront for an option on the Alzheimer’s disease candidate.
The duo say they will apply Voyager’s gene therapy vector expertise to develop a one-off Alzheimer’s treatment that uses adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors to produce "vectorized" anti-tau antibodies within the brain.
In addition to the upfront fee, the pharma company is pledging up to $155 million in potential preclinical and phase 1 opt-in payments, plus up to $895 million in development and regulatory milestones for each vectorized tau antibody compound. Voyager will fund the program through phase 1.
But that deal came on the heels of Sanofi walking away from the Parkinson’s gene therapy covered by its $845 million alliance with the company. The decision gave Voyager the full global rights to VY-AADC but left it without a partner as it geared up for a pivotal global phase 2/3 clinical trial.
At the time, Voyager said Sanofi’s decision as a result of the Big Pharma’s desire to own the U.S. rights to the gene therapy.
“Voyager is in a very strong position with our pivotal gene therapy clinical trial for Parkinson’s disease about to begin and having recently been granted RMAT designation by the FDA,” said Paul.
“Our vector and delivery optimization efforts have benefitted our Parkinson’s disease program as well as our preclinical pipeline programs targeting Huntington’s disease, ALS, and Friedreich’s ataxia. Our collaborations with AbbVie and Sanofi Genzyme are also progressing nicely and I am proud to have co-founded the company and helped assemble the talented and dedicated team at Voyager that has achieved these impressive milestones, and I look forward to supporting Andre in his new role.
“I am honored to join the Voyager team at this important time in the company’s evolution and help progress its potentially transformative programs,” added Turenne.
“During my career, I have had the opportunity to evaluate many types of exciting companies, technologies, and therapeutic approaches, and to integrate and grow these businesses over time. Having been involved with Voyager from an early stage during the collaboration with Sanofi Genzyme, I am thrilled to now be joining this team at the leading edge of developing potentially ground-breaking therapies for patients with severe neurological diseases.”