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OGT s Peter Hotten on Microarrays and Intellectual Property

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At A Glance

Peter Hotten, director of licensing and business development, Oxford Gene Technology IP.

Education: 1978 — BSc, chemistry, microbiology; Loughborough University, Leicestershire, UK

PhD — Thermophilic bacterial enzymes, Reading University, UK

Postdoc — Mathematical modeling of soil nutrient cycles, International Council for Research in Agroforestry, Nairobi, Kenya

Postdoc — Rowett Institute, The use of enzymes in animal nutrition, Aberdeen, Scotland.

 

Peter Hotten is the director of Oxford Gene Technology, the company that is aggressively seeking to protect the microarray-related intellectual property developed by Ed Southern of Oxford University.

Hotten is a scientist with global experience, and an interest in business. He recently spoke with BioArray News about Oxford Gene Technology. Because the company is pursuing three lawsuits in two different jurisdictions, Hotten declined to speak specifically about the actions. However, he did speak about the company and its efforts in microarrays.

How did you join up with Oxford Gene Technology?

I have always tried to earn money out of science. Once, I started microbiology store, a landscape gardening company on the intellectual end of using a shovel. I went up to Aberdeen for post-doctoral studies [at Rowell Institute]. They had a technology transfer company, very young, with about two people working there. I got appointed to [the] tech transfer company. Within three months, I became managing director and built it up. Oxford [University] has a big transfer company. They head-hunted me down to there. They captured me.

What do you see as OGT’s mission?

In general, OGT has a suite of intellectual property, but [we] haven’t been good at talking about it. We haven’t been very clever in letting people know what we have and what we do. We need to answer questions like: ‘What is your property? How is it different? If I have an Affy license, do need an OGT license?’ We want to enable people to enter the world of microarrays.

We are being a bit more proactive as [we] get more members of staff on the team. People are [still] confused on why they should get an OGT license.

How many people do you have working with you?

The head count is about 19. [W]e hope to be 25 at the end of the year.

How many are lawyers?

No lawyers. We use external lawyers. We have a nice mix of people who are aware of commercial pressures: are we going to earn any money?

How is the company organized?

At the top is OGT IP Ltd., which holds certain patents and does licensing and administration to make sure the group is healthy. The group has two wholly owned subsidiaries, OGT Ltd (the original company that still holds certain patents) and OGT Operations Ltd.

OGT Operations has a staff of engineers and scientists working on new technology. The majority of our employees are employed by OGT Operations, where we are trying to develop new things, ‘molecular tools’, that have many applications, some linked to microarrays others, for example, to do with mass spectroscopy. We are in the process of establishing a microarray services unit. We are considering making it a center of excellence, answering questions and queries, and practical problems, but we won’t be bulk manufacturing microarrays for sale. Through cross licensing, we have access to other several technologies. So, we are developing in-house the ability to solve problems. If we do find a solution, we can point [clients] to people with the licenses and the rights. The concept is that it will always be a services operation, with very limited manufacturing.

Does Professor Southern hang out in a lab coat?

There’s no lab coat for Ed. He is part time at Oxford University now and the chairman of OGT. He spends a lot of time talking to scientists and listening to them, and giving feedback. Him actually working at the bench is a rare sight at OGT. He does not have a dedicated office, but, really, he can go anywhere he wants. He owns the place.

He was recently honored by the Queen. What is his official title?

Professor Sir Edwin Mellor Southern.

How does the company work?

The way that I visualize it is [as] a virtuous circle. [Prof. Southern] did some excellent work, and created some strong patents that resulted in revenue. That has been invested in many things — more research, more science, creating more licensing and revenue. It is not our mission or our plan to become a manufacturer. That is not our skill base. Our purpose is to develop services, intellectual property, and new molecular tools and get those out into the market. We see ourselves as the trigger point, the catalyst.

Is intellectual property the biggest hurdle for innovation in microarrays?

There are, you know, many companies in the microarray field, and associated with microarrays. There is a lot of IP out there. For a company starting out, that can be a hurdle. They have to do due diligence, and have the freedom to operate. If they were to approach us, we can talk sensibly on what we have, and we can help them through these barriers. There is a fact of life: we have rights, but we want to encourage people to get into the field, and generate money to do more research.

You can’t just create an IP portfolio. It has to generate an income. You have to protect your ground, and talk to those who need your advice. We have some good relationships with our licensees; they recognize the importance of our IP being kept strong.

Is the basis for OGT’s intellectual property based on a glass substrate?

We have several published patent applications. As they are published, you will find that we aren’t limited to glass. We have a variety of technologies and way[s] of using microarrays. This goes back to the comment I made earlier. We haven’t been the most talkative about our patent coverage. Some people thought we only had claims to in situ synthesis. It’s not just glass slides.

You have patents in the US, and Europe, but you also have others?

We are quite proud to have patents granted in Japan. We are picking up strong expressions of interest from Japanese companies. It is an interesting market and there is a tremendous role for someone to play — maybe OGT or someone else.

What role do you see for microarrays in the future?

I think that the interrogation of genetic material will be an important aspect of biology and health in the biggest meaning of the word. As for microarrays, they are a good source of data. There is a good future for microarrays. Whether they become a commodity or become more affordable is an interesting question. The MBA business studies see high value, high tech products, moving toward commodity products with a very important role in the sector. The obvious parallel is computing. Now we all have a laptop. I see microarrays in a way being parallel to that. There is an important future in helping people interrogate genetic material. Microarrays will have a part as one of a suite of technologies helping people understand this DNA information. Questions like that will always be with us. From the business perspective, it will be fascinating in the next few years watching companies cope with commodit-ization. They will be looking to add value and create margins.