NEW YORK, Feb. 25 - Peter Chambre, Celera's former chief operating officer, will become CEO of Cambridge Antibody Technology, CAT said on Monday. He is slated to start sometime in April.
"We are delighted that Peter has agreed to join CAT at this time when the company is positioning itself for transition to a profitable biopharmaceutical business," Peter Garland, CAT's chairman, said in a statement.
Biopharmaceuticals? Hold on a moment. Back in October, GenomeWeb reported that Chambre left Celera for an undisclosed slot at Applera, Celera's parent. This led to hindsight speculation from insiders that the move was orchestrated by Tony White, Applera's chief, to help soften the blow that Craig Venter's impending departure was to have three months down the road.
"It's just part of the natural evolution of the company," a Celera spokeswoman said in an interview in October, explaining that Chambre will be working with Tony White, who at the moment is also Celera's temporary president. "The company is evolving on a lot of levels as we become a full-fledged therapeutic discovery company."
So Chambre moved from Celera to Applera to help the former more quickly take up residence downstream. But why has he now agreed to do the job for CAT that White desperately needs finished at Celera? And what "biopharmaceutical" experience does the 46-year-old Englishman possess, anyway?
"Obviously, [Chambre's experience] is not pharmaceuticals/therapeutics, but in the end we decided that it wasn't essential to have someone with therapeutics background for this position," John Aston, CAT's chief financial officer, told GenomeWeb. "The way we look at it is that you need all sorts of expertise as the business grows. You're not going to find all that [pharmaceuticals/therapeutics experience], nor can you expect to find all that expertise, in one person." According to a CAT spokeswoman, Aston had "a big hand" in hiring Chambre.
"We think the sort of functional expertise you need in order to push products further down the development pipeline can be grafted on, but you don't need to find it in a chief executive," he said. "The same way that Pete doesn't have a scientific background. Again, we don't think that's essential in terms of the future of this company." (Chambre received a bachelor of science in food science fro Reading University in the UK, according to CAT.)
A person close to Celera, asked to comment about the likelihood that Chambre would have been a good choice to replace Venter, say that he wouldn't have been. "Celera's view differs from CAT's view," this knowledgeable person told GenomeWeb. "What Celera said it's looking for and what Chambre's background is is not the same thing." He mentioned Celera's search for "somebody who has been through managing clinical trials or a business that's moved drugs into a commercial status. And it's not something that Peter's done."
To be sure, Celera and CAT, though both pursuing drug-development goals, currently inhabit different lengths of the pipeline and are betting on different kinds of products: CAT is banking on antibodies and is currently enrolling patients in a Phase II clinical trial, while Celera is looking at small molecules and has yet to file an IND, let alone enter the clinic.
Asked to comment, a Celera spokesman would only say that Celera wishes Chambre and CAT good luck.
Erica Whittaker, an analyst who covers CAT for Merrill Lynch in the UK, agrees with Aston that pure downstream experience matters little to CAT's drug-development goals. Instead, Chambre will likely be a good fit at CAT because he is experienced at transitioning companies from one model to another.
Chambre "doesn't have, himself, drug-development skills," Lynch told GenomeWeb. "But what he does have the skills to do is to make transitions to help companies move from one strategy to the next.
"He knows that he doesn't have all the skills" to usher CAT downstream, she added. "But [CAT's] going to do some skill building as well, bringing in people they think they'll need on the ground to help them make that evolution to a profitable company."
Whittaker stressed that CAT is "on track to become profitable in 2006." What it needs--and what it says it has found in Chambre--is someone to make sure that "the transition is as efficient and effective as possible."
Whittaker cited Chambre's effort at Celera, which CAT is betting he will recreate. But Celera's drug-development skills have not yet been fully defined--the company still has not named a replacement for Venter.
Aston and Whittaker both mentioned Bespack, a UK-based medical-device and drug-delivery company that Chambre led as CEO for six years before joining Celera in July 2000.
Does Chambre's appointment mean that he was brought in to facilitate the transition, and that CAT intends to hire a new CEO with specific drug-development chops?
"That's not what we're saying at all," said CAT's Aston. "We see [Chambre] as a man to see the company right through."
Chambre himself was unreachable for comment, though he said in a statement that he is "excited by the opportunity at CAT and am very much looking forward to joining the company."
CAT shares were unchanged at $20 in mid-afternoon Nasdaq trading.