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Following CEO Resignation, Sequenom to Expand its Place in Gene Expression

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Days after it announced the resignation of CEO Toni Schuh, Sequenom last week said it plans to expand its presence in the gene-expression market by launching an enhanced software package.

Company spokeswoman Amy Caterina told BioArray News that the new software would be the first of several new products to be released, and that it would be formally presented at the HUGO 10th Annual Human Genome Meeting in Kyoto, Japan, on April 18.

Caterina said the new product would supplement Sequenom’s MassArray Compact SNP-genotyping instrument, launched in 2004, and that it was part of the new direction the company is headed — further into gene-expression analysis and out of drug discovery. The company released its first gene-expression offering in 2003 as part of its flagship MassArray Compact System, and followed that with its quantitative expression technology in 2004.

Caterina also said that the company views its technology, which is based on mass spectrometry rather than microarrays, as a natural competitor in the gene-expression market. “This would provide the same service,” Caterina said of the new software, which Sequenom contends could be used as a “substitute” for microarray technology.

Caterina declined to disclose the details of the new product, such as how much it would cost, how it works, or even how long it took to develop. “We have to save something for the official announcement,” Caterina said.

The launch comes at a time of change for the San Diego-based high-throughput genotyping company. Last week CEO Schuh resigned after leading the company in a fling with drug discovery at the expense of its core business, a move Caterina agreed had set Sequenom back financially.

The company announced that Chief Financial Officer Steve Zaniboni would become the acting CEO until the board appointed a permanent replacement, while Schuh would stay on as an advisor for 12 months.

Caterina said that Zaniboni is a possible candidate to take over as full-time CEO, but that the board is looking at their options.

Zaniboni inherits a company that is cutting its losses from previous years, while looking to generate additional revenue. The results of its fourth quarter showed that revenue had decreased by 24 percent year over year, to $6.1 million from $8 million.

The company showed signs of turning around though, cutting its net loss to $6.9 million from $10.1 million for the fourth quarter of 2003, a 32-percent improvement.

Sequenom said it had cash and cash equivalents of $38 million as of Dec. 31, 2004.

Other announcements in recent weeks have shown that the company is having some success with marketing its MassArray genotyping platform. Sequenom said earlier this month that Iceland Genomics will analyze its panels of genetic markers associated with breast and prostate cancer in Icelandic patient samples.

In December 2004, the company said its MassArray helped discover alleles linked to a 40-percent increased risk of breast and prostate cancer.

Caterina said that the company is hoping to expand on these results to buoy its top-line growth, and that it had no intent of selling off its drug-discovery assets in the future. Rather, she said, Sequenom intends to fold those assets into its genotyping and molecular-diagnostic efforts.

Caterina added that Sequenom plans to introduce several other new products beside the gene-expression software throughout 2005, including its first analyte-specific reagents for public-domain genetic tests.

— JP

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