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Array Up-and-Comer GenoSpectra Trims Staff; Is Affy Lurking in the Shadows?

BOSTON, Oct. 21 - Nascent microarray company GenoSpectra has trimmed its headcount, though conflicting reports make it difficult to determine the nature of the job cuts, GenomeWeb has learned.


A second-hand report from a source within the company last week concluded that GenoSpectra had laid off its entire marketing department. Two executives, including newly appointed CEO Frank Witney and Victor Shi, vice president of corporate development, declined to comment when asked about the moves, though a current board member, John Diekman, confirmed certain facts.

He said five people have been laid off, the cuts coming from a variety of levels, including one executive, one business person, one administration person, and one tech person. Citing competitive reasons, he declined to disclose the nature of their employment, or what projects they had been working on at the time. The Fremont, Calif.-based firm employed around 45 people before the cuts, according to its web site.

The layoffs are "not about cutting burn rate, just a resorting of priorities," Diekman told GenomeWeb today. The cuts, he stressed, "signify making a lot of progress in one area."

According to Diekman, when Witney came on board at the end of July, "he looked at three or four areas [of the business] and decided to emphasize certain areas over others." Consequently, some people's responsibilities and functions were no longer aligned with the direction of the company, Diekman explained. He wouldn't elaborate.


Witney was hired to guide GenoSpectra's fiber optics-based microarray technology through the final stages of commercialization, the company said when he was brought on board.


Its novel array technology and the statement that its marketing department has been eliminated immediately drew suspicions that GenoSpectra was being groomed for an acquisition by Affymetrix. The connections linking the two companies are firm: Diekman is vice chairman of Affy; Richard Rava, who was Affy's CTO until June 2001, sits on GenoSpectra's board of directors as well as its SAB; and GenoSpectra's first round of private-equity financing came courtesy of Affy co-founder Alejandro Zaffaroni.


An Affy spokeswoman declined to comment when asked whether Affy is positioning itself to acquire GenoSpectra or even to pick up the slack left by the five sacked staffers.


GenoSpectra's technology uses fiber-optic strands to help deposit oligonucleotides onto microarray slides and develop ADMET microarrays, biomarker microarrays, extreme high-throughput screening chips, and extreme high-throughput desktop-screening stations.

"The fiber optic in our platform is used to manufacture DNA microarrays on a standard microscope slide," Shi, the corporate development VP, said in an interview with GenomeWeb in February. "The end result is the same as if you did it with a GeneMachines spotter, except for the throughput and the quality that we can deliver."
GenoSpectra is banking on the fact that its technology allows it to spot an entire chip at once rather than doing it spot-by-spot. Another advantage is that the fiber optics allow the company to see what is being put down, and to perform quality control in real-time, Shi said.

The company said it will use this time-saving technique to make cheaper oligo arrays, which it plans to sell directly to customers. GenoSpectra will use presynthesized oligos and will spot them down on the glass slide. But it has not yet figured out what to charge for the arrays, Shi said.

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