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Nanogen President Bruce Huebner Pilots Through Changes

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AT A GLANCE

• Bruce Huebner, president, chief operating officer, Nanaogen.

• Previously — executive vice president and chief operating officer, Gen-Probe.

EDUCATION

• BS — Chemistry, University of Wisconsin.

Bruce Huebner has reached the halfway mark in his rookie year as the president and chief operating officer of San Diego-based Nanogen. It’s been a tumultuous six months for the company that operates around commercializing the NanoChip platform, an electronic microarray system of instruments, consumables, and reagents.

The company axed 20 percent of its workforce in April before announcing first-quarter financial results at the end of the month. With $36.9 million in cash, cash equivalents, and short-term investments as of March 31, the company had taken in revenues of $1.2 million for the first three months of the year, while rolling out a series of new ASRs and related products.

The company also revealed that it had sold 3 million of its CombiMatrix shares, received in a settlement of a patent dispute, at $1.50 a share, to raise $4.5 million in operating cash reserves: The shares were valued at $2.70 a share, on paper.

Most recently, the company’s CFO, Gerard Wills, announced his intention to resign. He will be replaced by David Ludvigson, a member of the board of directors, who will join the company as executive vice president. Ludvigson was a long-time executive with Matrix Pharmaceuticals, and served on the board of Nanogen since 1996.

Huebner spoke with BioArray News about the changes and how Nanogen will plot its course through them.

 

How will the departure of your CFO affect the company?

Jerry [Wills] had a desire to move on. We were talking about it for some time and we were very fortunate that David Ludvigson, a long-time board member for us who had just sold a company in the Bay area, was available. He is going to step in and we won’t miss a beat. He is going to add a lot to our corporate development as well, based on all his experience. We hate to lose Jerry, but David could step in and it should be very beneficial for us.

 

The press release announcing Mr. Ludvigson’s new position said he would be in charge of merger and acquisition activities for the company. Would you talk about those?

We are always looking for opportunities: There are a lot of companies that have products that don’t have money, and are looking for financing. Those are the types of things that David is going to step right in and see if there are opportunities to [take] care of in this market. We still have cash in the bank and that [is one thing] we can do that other companies can’t.

 

What about a merger?

I don’t really want to comment on it. We are not actively pursuing that: We are looking for ways to grow on our own. That’s our main strategy right now. If somebody came around and beat on the door, well, you never know. These things happen, but we don’t have an active program looking for someone to take us over, that’s for sure.

 

Nanogen sold most of its stake in CombiMatrix at a loss. Could you talk about the thinking behind that sale?

We just felt that, based on the time, it was the best thing to do to get more cash in the system. Should we have held on longer? It would be hard telling.

 

What will the funds do for you?

We are going to be as smart as we possibly can, going forward, with the uses of our money. We are going to continue to manage our cash and our spending very closely. Those are the reasons we did some right-sizing and reductions recently. We have to continue to execute. [The question is:] Can you get it done fast enough? — that is the key.

 

The FDA is starting to become active in attempting to formulate policy relating to genomic tools and data. Are you having to tailor your business around that?

We are very aware of where it is. We participate in the different conference calls. We will continue to evolve our regulatory strategy and will continue to do so as the market changes. There are going to be changes, and we know that. We are just going to stay tuned to that and we will take the right steps when it comes time to do it. Right now, we are moving forward with our ASR strategy.

 

You have introduced a number of ASR products. How is that product rollout going?

We are going step-by-step, in a controlled-release basis. This is a brand-new technology for the customer and we are going through with the training and the bumps and the hiccups that typically happen when you launch a new product.

 

What is your view of the molecular diagnostics marketplace?

It continues to evolve. New markers are being detected all the time. There is a lot of research going on but the big markets continue to be the HIV, HCV/chlamydia/gonorrhea markets. Genetic testing appears to be getting along.

You have several grants and contracts with the government. That seems to be an attractive market. How accessible is funding?

We have two government contracts in biowarfare, and one with identity testing. Our platform tends to lend itself to this. As we go forward, there may be more applications to it. We will continue to look at ways to enhance our research efforts that will enhance not only our diagnostics position but [that] may have some application in biowarfare. We will continue to do what we are doing.

It’s an exciting time at Nanogen. We have a lot of challenges and I’m not going to downplay that at all. We have come out with a new technology. The technology looks solid, the market looks like it will continue to evolve and grow. Again, our big challenge right now is to execute. We are deep into the day-to-day stuff. I’m very positive about it and I believe there is a good future.

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