For Stephen DeFalco, a former president of PerkinElmer Instruments, joining US Genomics as CEO wasn’t necessarily a straightforward decision. It was the first time he had considered running an early-stage technology company, and while he was attracted to the idea of building a company from the roots up, not every factor he considered willed him to say yes. “At times like this in your career when you make decisions, your ego wants to take you to a bigger organization, but your heart wants to take you to something where you really think you’re going to have an impact. For me the idea of building the next great tools company is a very large attraction.”
US Genomics, the startup founded by wunderkind Eugene Chan in 1997 to commercialize technology for analyzing single strands of biological molecules such as DNA, has attracted considerable attention for its avante garde technology as well as for the scientists who have associated themselves with the company. Some genomics watchers say US Genomics’ technology has the potential to significantly advance both the efficiency and throughput of DNA sequencing — not the least of whom is Craig Venter, who signed on as a company director in August 2002.
But DeFalco’s first job isn’t to bring to market a new DNA sequencer. Instead, the 42-year-old Long Island native is charged with adapting US Genomics’ direct molecular analysis technology — an amplication-free method that relies on tagging chemistries and laser detection — to quantify and read out the identity of single RNA molecules. The company’s instrument platform was initially more easily optimized for RNA analysis, DeFalco adds, allowing Chan and his technical team time to perfect the technology for DNA. Although the former CEO no longer has an official title at the company, Chan is “driving the next-generation technologies,” DeFalco says.
DeFalco, who resigned from PerkinElmer at the end of last year following a company-wide reorganization, says his mandate is to bring the company’s technology to market by the end of this year. Recruiting beta customers is one of his first action items, as is completing a financing round of at least $30 million to support product development, adding to the company’s payroll of 50 employees, and marketing the instrument. Says DeFalco: “This has been an organization that has made tremendous technical progress, but is now turning the corner to commercialize their technologies and bring them out to the market. That’s what I’m about.”
— John S. MacNeil