From bedside to Biogen

My motivation to develop new neurology medicines

By Alfred Sandrock, M.D., Ph.D.
Executive Vice President, Neurology Discovery & Development and Chief Medical Officer

April 18, 2016

I’m a physician and a neuroscientist by training. When you’re a neurologist, it’s tough because many of the diseases we treat have no true therapies. When I was practicing at Mass General Hospital, we were at a major center for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that saw people with ALS from all corners of the world. It’s very hard to have to tell someone that they have ALS because the first question they ask is: ‘What can you do for me?’ As a doctor, to tell them that there was not much that I could do and that they were going to die was a very difficult thing. I think about these patients often.

Leaving the bedside for Biogen
In 1998, I looked across the Charles River, at Cambridge where there was one company called Biogen that had just introduced a disease-modifying therapy for multiple sclerosis (MS). It was an interferon beta, a medicine that slowed relapsing MS. It felt to me like the start of an era where we could actually make good drugs for bad diseases like MS and hopefully, some day, for ALS. I decided to come and see what I could do to try and make a significant difference for the people that I saw every day.

What making a difference for patients means to me
When I came to Biogen, I liked the fact that the company was interested in developing highly innovative, non-incremental therapeutic breakthroughs. Interferon for MS wasn’t just an incremental or slight improvement to the current standard of care. At the time, the medicine was a step change for MS patients.

I don’t work in a company that has a goal of making just small improvements in treatment. When you’re dealing with diseases like ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and MS, patients need big breakthroughs. They need something that will have a meaningful impact on their lives. I came to Biogen to do this kind of work. I’m proud that our medical directors and the scientists that we’ve been able to recruit here also don’t shy away from these tough problems. We all have as a goal the desire to make breakthroughs and I love the fact that we’re working in disease areas that represent such high unmet needs. Patients are waiting.

Learn more about neurology research at Biogen

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