Meet William Bennett, a man with almost 20 years of experience in drug discovery and one of Hyseq’s newest leaders, charged with helping to lead the company along its latest trajectory: biopharmaceuticals. He’s looking forward to the ride as much as the destination. “I thought it would be interesting for me to try to take on a transition.”
As the company’s new senior vice president of research, Bennett, 52, is helping the company move away from its previous focus — creating a library of genes using proprietary high-throughput sequencing by hybridization — to now using that library to pick drug targets and take them to clinical trials.
Working with partners and contractors, Bennett’s team is now gathering homology and biology data on the company’s gene collection in order to “opportunistically” pick the best candidates for new drugs. Once those have been chosen, Bennett says Hyseq could partner out clinical tests or, if possible, perform them in-house.
But those tests are still a fair way off, for the road leading from technology platforms to pharmaceuticals is long and bumpy. “It’s really a gradual process,” Bennett concedes. But he says that Hyseq is already developing some products from its library, and the FDA could receive up to four investigational new drug applications — the first document needed when entering clinical trials — from Hyseq by year’s end.
According to Bennett, the company began to make this transition when George Rathmann joined the Hyseq crew early last year. The famed cofounder of Amgen realized that once the genome was finished and Hyseq had developed its gene library, gene discovery would become old news. “George thought the best way to make use of this library … was to go try to make it into drugs,” Bennett says.
One of Rathmann’s first steps in that direction was to step aside as CEO in March and promote Ted Love to the position. Love’s appointment helped convince Bennett to come on board. Bennett worked with Love at Genentech, and thinks of him as a “good drug developer.” When Rathmann installed Love as CEO, Bennett says he knew Hyseq was really serious about changing directions.
— Alison McCook