Biogen Top Science Executive Sandrock to Retire at Year-End
(Bloomberg) -- Biogen Inc. said that its top scientific executive is retiring at the end of the year, a departure that caps months of turbulence at the biotechnology company since the approval of its controversial Alzheimer’s disease drug.
The company said in a statement Monday that Alfred Sandrock, its head of research & development, will retire effective Dec. 31. Priya Singhal, head of global safety and regulatory sciences, will assume Sandrock’s duties on an interim basis, Biogen said.
Sandrock, 64, is an executive of immense stature at Biogen. He led the development of top-selling drugs including multiple sclerosis treatment Tecfidera and Spinraza, for spinal muscular atrophy. A member of the company’s executive committee since 2015, he previously served as its chief medical officer from 2012 to 2020.
In addition to his role in some of Biogen’s biggest blockbusters, Sandrock was also instrumental in the development of Aduhelm, the Alzheimer’s treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this year.
Though hailed by Biogen and some disease advocates as a landmark, Aduhelm was cleared over the objections of experts who said that more evidence was needed to establish that it works. Big trials that were halted by Biogen in 2019 produced contradictory results, but the drug was cleared through an accelerated pathway on the condition the company do another trial to confirm its benefits.
In addition, contacts between company executives including Sandrock and FDA officials are under scrutiny by lawmakers and in an inquiry by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Throughout 2019, after Biogen stopped its trials, FDA officials held regular meetings with company executives. In the spring of 2019 Sandrock met with a key official from the FDA’s Office of Neuroscience at a medical conference in Philadelphia, and the regulator suggested Biogen not abandon the drug candidate.
In an open letter in July, Sandrock denounced criticism of the approval as “extensive misinformation and misunderstanding” and said the debate had gone “outside the boundaries of legitimate scientific deliberation.”
Biogen has said it will cooperate with any probe into the Aduhelm review process.
The furor over the clearance and Aduhelm’s high price, at $56,000 a year, has contributed to slow uptake of the treatment. The U.S. is still weighing whether to cover the drug through government insurance programs, but already health officials have increased premiums in Medicare Part B for 2022 to prepare for the cost of Aduhelm and similar drugs that could be approved soon by the FDA.
Michel Vounatsos, Biogen’s chief executive officer, said in the statement that Sandrock “inspired a new generation of scientists while helping to grow Biogen from a small biotech firm in Cambridge to a Fortune 500 enterprise.”
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