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Site Visit Recap: Voyager Therapeutics

June 8, 2018

        The Industry Exploration Program (IndEx) at UMass Chanu Medical School aims to facilitate the connection between graduate students and postdoctoral fellows with professionals in the industry setting. The program encourages students and postdocs to explore non-academic careers, gain firsthand insight into the culture of different companies, and expand their networks by exposing them to various career options.

        IndEx is constantly looking for novel opportunities to facilitate the interaction between graduate students/postdoctoral fellows and industry professionals in the Great Boston Area. After a successful site visit to KSQ Therapeutics in March this year, IndEx was pleased to have the opportunity to organize its second site visit of the year to Voyager Therapeutics in Cambridge, MA.Founded in 2014, Voyager Therapeutics is pioneering a fundamentally new approach to R&D and its mission is todevelop and deliver life-changing therapies to people around the world living with severe neurological diseases, with a commitment to discovery, research, development and manufacturing.”

        On June 8, Voyager opened its doors to 25 UMass Chan Medical School trainees from different research disciplines. The visit started off with welcoming words from Dr. Dinah Sah, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer. Dr. Sah presented a brief introduction to Voyager, its therapeutics goals and core values. She continued by describing the highly promising approach that the company has developed to perform effective gene-therapy delivery using adeno-associated virus (AAV), with a focus on neurological diseases. Their unique approach uses advanced AAV vector design and appropriate dosing techniques to enable widespread gene delivery in the brain and spinal cord with the goal of generating long-lasting benefits to patients with these diseases. Dr. Sah described her impressive career path that led her to Voyager. She explained how a start-up company is established and stressed on the inner workings and professional differences between big and small companies. She generously offered the trainees some important tips for success in the research field highlighting the importance of collaboration, networking and the importance of keeping good professional relationships even with competitors. This information was very helpful for the trainees in deciding their next career steps.

        The visit also included tours in the Voyager laboratories. Trainees were able to observe firsthand how the laboratory spaces were organized and compare them to the academic settings. The lab tour was followed by a Research Career Path panel discussion with Dr. Todd Carter, PhD (Senior Director, Neuroscience), Dr. Giri Muralidaran, PhD (Scientist II), Dr. Wei Wang, PhD (Scientist II), Dr. Xiao-Qin Ren, PhD (Senior Scientist I) and Dr. Lauren Drouin, PhD (Scientist II, Analytical Development). Each of the panelists provided a brief overview of their scientific background, training, and the career path they undertook to reach their positions at Voyager. The discussion turned into a Q&A session where the trainees had the opportunity to ask the professionals about their experiences, their typical daily routine and work-life balance while working in industry. The panelists also advised the trainees on some of the key elements for successful transition into industry from a graduate and post-graduate experience. They pinpointed the importance of building a network early on and practicing communication skills. The panelists also emphasized the importance of adequate preparations for each job interview, the aspects to consider before choosing the biotech company to work for and how to build industry-tailored resumes. The visit concluded with an Alternate Career Path panel discussion. This panel included Dr. Luis Maranga, PhD (Chief Technical Operations Officer), Dr. Bob Pietrusko, Pharm.D (Senior Vice President, Regulatory Affairs and QA), Dr. Xiaobing Li, PhD (Vice President, Program Management) and Dr. Elisabeth Fine, PhD (Director of Medical Affairs and Operations). This panel discussion was extremely productive and gave the trainees the opportunity to hear about alternative career paths in the biotech industry and how they could transition from the bench to other positions.

        The visit to Voyager Therapeutics was greatly appreciated by all the attendees. They were impressed by Voyager Therapeutics’s AAV-associated gene therapy technology and the company’s sheer sincerity and willingness to help with their questions during the visit. They were thrilled about having the opportunity to interact so closely with industry professionals and expand their professional network. Additionally, they were intrigued to discover the increasing opportunities both at the bench, and alternative career paths away from the bench.

        Index is grateful to Voyager Therapeutics for their time, insights, genuine hospitality and generous commitment that made the site visit an undoubted success. Special thanks to Violetta Drobot, HR Generalist at Voyager, in making this event possible and coordinating with the IndEx team.