NEW YORK, March 20 - As the new chief scientific officer at PerkinElmer, Neil Cook has got his hands full.
The 44-year-old British expat joined the genomic tool shop two weeks ago and takes over the CSO's office at a time when the tool and technology industry is either consolidating or metamorphosing.
Cook, a former Amersham Biosciences executive, also happened to start his new job four months after PerkinElmer acquired Packard Bioscience--a 1,000-employee company that sells its sample preparation tools and biochip technologies to 60 countries in North America, Europe, and Asia--and six months before it is to launch an automated protein array system it's co-developing with NextGen Sciences.
He also jumps into the top science seat at a time when the genomic tool and tech sector that PerkinElmer occupies is plagued with anxiety and identity crises. But don't expect Cook to jump into that mix.
GenomeWeb: Describe your new ProteinArray workstation that is slated to be released in September.
Neil Cook: I think the whole area of protein arrays is a newly emerging area, so the collaboration with NextGen has allowed us to get very close to the customer base. [NextGen] has a lot of experience in the protein microarray area.
If you look at the workstation as it's being designed now, it plays a lot to the PerkinElmer skill base with our HydroGel technology. We now have a system which in a way is a classical PerkinElmer system: We have an innovative technology we can automate. So our workstation will have a microarray presentation [that will have] fully automated delivery and washing of the microarrays waiting for detection.
GW: Can you say how much it will cost?
GW: Are there other tools or technologies beside the protein array workstation that PerkinElmer is working on now?
NC: We have a tremendous opportunity in the field of gene expression, and by that I mean beyond microarrays. There's a lot of work that needs to be done around the reading of genome-scanning microarrays. So one of the focuses I would like to have going forward is to take gene expression much more into the functional biology area and be looking at gene expression both in time and space: Where are these genes interacting in cells? How long are they there for? What order do they come in?
That also starts to lead into functional proteomics. These areas for me ... are all merging. And what we're really looking at is a level of functional biology. If you look at all the major markets in life sciences, they're now moving toward the functional end. And that is an area I think PerkinElmer is well placed to put its technologies together in different formats than what it has in the past, and bring new application platforms [to market].
GW: Does PerkinElmer have a near-term plan to increase either R&D or sales and marketing staff to accommodate these goals?
NC: Yes. I fully anticipate that we will continue to grow both organically in R&D and also by acquisition of technology and talent.
GW: When might this growth happen?
NC: I would say that you can expect a periodic increase in technology acquisition. This industry is consolidating quite rapidly, so any company that isn't doing strategic technology acquisition on a regular basis is going to fall behind.
GW: What within PerkinElmer is the weakest link, and what steps can you take to make the company more fit in the current market?
NC: I think what we need to do now is realize the potential of the ... acquisition of Packard Biosciences. With that, PerkinElmer is fully placed to deliver full-solutions systems into the marketplace. In the past, both Packard and PerkinElmer were able to bring in systems, but not total solutions. We now have a broad waterfront of technology capability so we can bring innovative technology into an automated platform into all market spaces, whether proteomics, genomics, or high-throughput drug discovery.
To some regard that is going to be my job: to integrate R&D [and] to be able to move us from just systems development to solutions development. But in a way that's going to create another problem for us, and that is our ability to handle the informatics. Because when we start to operate at a total solution we also need to annotate and control the sample, we need to be able to track the sample, and we need to be able to organize the data in a facile manner so that customers have a single solution right from the start--sample preparation through to detection and data handling.
So as we move up the value chain to full solutions, we will also integrate informatics into our portfolio of technologies.
GW: Does this mean we can expect a bioinformatics acquisition in the near future?
NC: I think to step up with a totally new competence in that way, it obviously would be a good strategic option for us to do that by acquisition. We do have some informatics capability in-house, which we can grow on. But depending on the need we will need to consider whether we need to acquire other informatic technologies.
GW: Is there any such acquisition in the pipeline?
NC: I couldn't comment on any business development.
GW: What industry-wide worries keep you up at night?
NC: The market is consolidating. There are major shifts in the science that is being undertaken. With the close of the high throughput-sequencing projects there is now a major shift in emphasis. PerkinElmer hasn't been providing tools to the sequencing markets so in a way we have been shielded from that a bit. But it's caused a major disruption in the way both biotech and pharma are now doing their business.
So there's going to be a period of readjustment there. And from a scientific perspective that readjustment is going to move now toward function. So we are now preparing ourselves for that new market need that will come once the fallout of reorganization of the genome sequencing has been complete.
GW: Any plans to take the company downstream?
NC: From an R&D perspective I would not be planning to compete with our customers. I don't think PerkinElmer at this moment in time would consider moving into either data provision or developing new pharmaceuticals in terms of its long-term strategy.
PerkinElmer has made it very clear that it wants to be a major player in the life-science business. And there is another powerful element in our business that is often overlooked: out genetic screening business. So we also have a market franchise, a technology platform, and a lot of in-house competence and expertise in the emerging area of molecular diagnostics.
Across our [technology] waterfront, I feel we are very well placed for what's about to happen: that is, the realization of the genome revolution. I don't see that PerkinElmer needs to find an alternative strategy. It is well placed in the tools market. At the end of the day, what will drive efficiency in big pharma and medicine in general will be new technology.
I know there has been a lot of discussion in the markets about where the tools business is going in the future. Well, the tools business is so tightly coupled to pharma's performance, and big pharma is not going away.