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Filling in at the Helm, Mollica Seeks New Captain to Steer Accelrys Toward the $200M Mark

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Despite the downturn in the bioinformatics sector this year, Joseph Mollica is bullish about his company’s chances for growth.

“I’d like to see the market grow a little bit more, and we’re impacted like everyone by the general economy and overall IT spending in corporate America, but I think the results we’ve had at Accelrys show that we’re still growing the business,” the CEO of Pharmacopeia, Accelrys’ parent company, told BioInform last week.

Mollica has temporarily taken the reins as acting COO of Accelrys, filling the shoes of Michael Stapleton, who resigned earlier this month. Mollica is seeking a replacement for Stapleton who can drive the company toward an ambitious goal. The company is on track to break the $100 million revenue mark in the 2002 fiscal year, so Accelrys’ next leader should be able to answer a few key questions, according to Mollica: “What does it mean to be a $200 million business in the not-too-distant future? What do we need to do to compete at that level?”

Accelrys’ software revenues for 2001 totaled $95.1 million, and the $63.9 million racked up so far in 2002 represents a five percent increase over the first nine months of 2001. If the company’s estimates of 5-10 percent growth for the remainder of the fiscal year hold out, it will easily pass the $100 million mark.

Mollica said he intends to use Accelrys’ size to its advantage in the coming year. While smaller companies “compete at the level of features of products,” Mollica said the pure breadth of Accelrys’ product line — bioinformatics, cheminformatics, modeling, and simulation software — would help it tough out the harsh economic climate. While its competitors are fighting to survive, the size of Accelrys “gives a certain comfort level to our customers: We are here to stay.”

A key ingredient of Mollica’s recipe for continued growth will be the success of the company’s recently launched Discovery Studio suite of products, a modular software system that Accelrys hopes pharmaceutical companies will adopt as the de facto standard for integrated research informatics. However, while there appears to be a great demand for such enterprise-wide systems within pharma, informatics vendors have had little success with previous enterprise systems. What makes Mollica sure that Accelrys will succeed where so many have flopped?

Timing, Mollica said. “I’m not so sure the market was ready a few years ago,” he noted. “There really wasn’t the culture for sharing information.” In addition, he said, the exponential growth in sequence data, combinatorial chemistry data, and high-throughput screening data that companies are contending with today “really only happened in the last two years.”

According to Mollica, the biggest risk the company is facing right now isn’t the demand for enterprise software — it’s “an execution risk.” The ongoing consolidation of big pharma coupled with the continued emergence of small biotech startups has created a highly stratified customer base, and a challenge for vendors hoping to meet the demands of both ends of the user spectrum.

This challenge, Mollica said, is a tough one, but is not entirely new: “It’s no different than a microcosm of a Hewlett-Packard or an IBM — they’ve got multimillion-dollar systems or you can buy a printer.” In fact, one of the primary characteristics Mollica is seeking in the company’s next COO is experience managing a similarly broad product line and customer base. Life science informatics expertise will be low on the priority list. “It’s the skill set that industries not exactly like ours require,” he said. “People who, say, provide software into the semiconductor industry …That’s what we’re looking for — someone who can think through and bring experiences from other domains and impact our area given the changes we’re going through.”

No stranger to growth through acquisition, Accelrys will continue to scout out new opportunities in that direction as well, Mollica said. The company is currently “looking at two or three things” to expand its technology portfolio.

While it’s not yet clear what —or who — these “things” are, one thing is for sure: They will be vehicles that in Mollica’s eyes can help the company get to that $200 million revenue milestone faster.

— BT

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