President, CEO, and Director
Name: Harry Stylli
Position: President, CEO, and Director, Sequenom
Background: President and CEO, Xencor, 2003-2005
President and CEO, CovX Pharmaceuticals, 2002-2003
Senior Vice President of Screening Technology and New Ventures, President and CEO, Aurora Biosciences, 1995-2001
Education: PhD, London University Faculty of Medicine
MBA, The Open University, United Kingdom
In the wake of the February resignation of Toni Schuh as CEO, Sequenom has sailed along without a replacement until the arrival of Harry Stylli last week. In about a month, the company has announced the results of a breast cancer gene-association study, sold one of its MassArray instruments to the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and announced the second of three labs that will validate its platform as part of a deal with imaging giant Siemens.
Pharmacogenomics Reporter called up Stylli to ask him about his experience, his plans for Sequenom, and his thoughts on the future of the MassArray.
What experience are you bringing to Sequenom?
My initial experience was at Glaxo in the UK, in the pharmaceutical aspect, in the technology components of pharmaceutical discovery in particular.
In 1995, I co-founded a company called Aurora Biosciences, and then over the course of five or six years, eventually ran the company as president. And along the way, I had various other responsibilities, including selling, starting up a new HTSS component of that company, and moving into the worldwide sales and business development, and running that. During my tenure, we took the revenues from zero to about $95 million in the space of five, maybe six years, and sold the company to Vertex Pharmaceuticals.
I worked with Vertex for about a year and facilitated the integration. So along the way, I have all kinds of experience buying and selling businesses, supporting or directly raising private equity, as well as public, either in support roles or direct roles — all kinds of transactions.
[I have] product development experience, business development, sales and marketing and a generally good understanding of science — that's from Aurora.
I founded a company called Covax Pharmaceuticals, which is an innovative antibody-conjugation company, and that's doing very well. Subsequent to that, I worked with a company called Xencor, and transitioned that away from it's original route, into what is now a focused, integrated discovery company that has significant antibody technologies and candidates, as well as a TNF-protein therapeutic.
Does your experience in changing the focus of Xencor impact your new job at Sequenom?
Let me give you some general insight. At Aurora, I was there about seven or eight years. You know, with small, fast-growing businesses in finite business models, you go through a number of transitions, in effect what are called 'real-time turnarounds.'
And Xencor was, to a degree, a turnaround, and I see Sequenom being very similar, although it has a much more accomplished asset base than Xencor.
Which of your experiences will be the most useful to you in the new position?
All of them actually, but Aurora had a tools-and-services business, in addition to [being a] drug discovery and development [firm], for example. And I'd say there are lots of overlaps there. We also had a reagents and assay business as well.
So, if you like, fundamental aspects of those businesses are relevant to this one. Plus, the fact that here we're also potentially looking at a diagnostics situation, which is very akin to the assay business, a hybrid of assay development and therapeutics, in the degree of difficulty. So that's intriguing.
There's a whole range of experiences I like to think I can bring to bear with the team here at Sequenom, and have a useful, meaningful impact.
Sequenom's share price has hovered around one dollar for a while. Are you planning a change in course or is there another way that you're hoping to inspire investors?
I think Sequenom is going to be around for a while. I think the company's way oversold, which was one of the attractive features of the company. If you look at the comps out there, they're all priced between five to ten [times] Sequenom.
And again, as I said, it was part of my decision analysis for joining Sequenom. I just saw that as huge disparity, and that the business was oversold, perhaps for good historical reasons, but all reasons that could be rectified.
The company's financeable, and I believe it has a great future ahead of it. And one of the things I want to do, and I've done repeatedly in my past, is identify the most viable commercial paths and value-creating paths for the business. I've got a great team here, I'm very excited and encouraged by what I've seen.
What do you think are Sequenom's most viable paths right now?
Well, I think there are two aspects, and you can understand I'm only getting into this, so take this with a pinch of salt. I literally transitioned in only last week, but I've spent quite a bit of time with the folks here.
I think the mass-spec platform has very unique features, and I believe if we could address some aspects of the technology, it could become a much more winning and compelling solution.
Having said that, the company also had some major initiatives, where it has discovered what I believe to be valuable content, and that could be leveraged in long-term value-creating ways. So, without being very specific, I believe it's quite exciting. As I said, it's hugely underleveraged.
Sequenom has recently been working on a project with Siemens. Do you think there is potential for a larger collaboration with a big imagining concern?
I think ultimately, it would probably be a good thing for Sequenom to partner in the clinical diagnostics market with one of the kinds of entities you've alluded to. Is there any immediate requirement? No. But I think it's a future requirement for us to really have a good chance of dominating that emerging space.
Now whether it's Siemens or GE Medical or Samsung, it's premature to say.
Why would we appeal to these players? I'd say, if you look at the way the whole field is going in DNA analysis, there's ultimately going to be convergence of technologies that's driven by the way that the applications are evolving.
One of the issues that is going to be there is that you've got to pay multiple pipers because the market is very fragmented. So either there needs to be a big consolidation, so you could offer, effectively, a one-stop solution. Or you could identify a platform that is independent of this, and is uniquely endowed to operate in this space, with full freedom to operate, and has a number of very important competitive advantages.
So, either you want to go and consolidate all the bits and pieces, if you're a major player, ultimately, or you can look for a solution that's already there that is very, very competitive. That's where mass spec fits in. It's reagent-independent. It's independent of all the competing patents. It has a throughput and cost characteristics.
It's high quality, and I think that's another aspect as well. So far we've been seeing what I would call crude and big primary studies, and many of those are not really delivering the goods, especially some of these large gene-expression methods. I anticipate that as the shift occurs, I think [there will be] more and more downstream, where there's a greater premium assigned to selectivity and quality of data. I think that's going to be another pull for mass spec, ultimately.
How long until we see the advantages of mass spec come to fruition, if I may paraphrase you?
I would like to say, within a couple of years, maybe two to three years max. I really don't have all the data I need to [give it] a timeframe with any confidence.