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UBS Global Life Sciences Conference, Day 3: Affymetrix, Exiqon

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Wednesday marked the last day of the UBS Global Life Sciences Conference where Affymetrix and Exiqon presented to investors.

Below are highlights from their talks.

Affymetrix

Nearing three months into his return trip to Affymetrix, CEO Frank Witney continued to stress piggybacking on the next-generation sequencing market as a strategy to revive the company.

Wall Street has been down on the company for a couple of years now, and since stepping in as Affy's CEO in July Witney he has tried to convince the investment community that the company and its core microarray-based technologies retain relevance in a field that has swung toward next-gen sequencing.

Witney said today that in spite of the shift, microarrays still can serve as tools to validate data coming from next-gen sequencers, and in particular the throughput of the technology can be used to validate the high number of sequences being generated.

His remarks mirrored those he made during Affy's second-quarter earnings conference call when he said the firm would need to "make sure that people would understand when one would run a microarray and how it fits into the [next-generation sequencing] workflow."

At the breakout session, Witney suggested that Affy essentially is playing catch-up in that respect, as the company had been slow in the past to respond to next-gen sequencing opportunities. The advantage of Affy's technology, he added, is that it is both well-known and "relatively low cost."

Benchtop sequencers that have either been launched or are set to launch by Life Technologies and Illumina, which can be used for validation, present a new challenge to Affy. Witney was short on details about how the company plans to compete with the new technology, though, saying only that it will boil down to simplicity and an ability to analyze large numbers of sequences, and Affy's advantage is the simplicity of its workflow.

Affy's push into next-generation sequencing validation affects its expression analysis business, which Witney noted is where much of the heavy lifting in turning the company around will be done.

"It's an area we want to focus on to establish," a stronghold, Witney said, adding that parts of the expression analysis business — for example, microarrays and plate arrays —are already growing "nicely."

He also said that Affy fumbled in its cytogenetics business where the company's products had not met customer needs. With the release of CytoScan HD during the summer, the cytogenetics business is being righted, he suggested. The product targets a $150 million to $200 million market opportunity, he said, adding that reception to the product has been "very good."

The company is pursuing regulatory clearance of the platform as an in vitro diagnostic product, though Witney declined to provide details.

One thing the firm is not looking to do is develop a new platform, which in the current environment would be "very difficult for us," he said.

Affy has a cash balance of $160 million and continues to evaluate its business and how best to deploy its cash. Asked during the breakout session about a possible share repurchase program, Witney said Affy is considering it.

Exiqon

Danish life science and molecular diagnostic firm Exiqon plans to make available a service that combines mRNA and miRNA onto one assay, CEO Lars Kongsbak said at the conference today.

For years, he said, researchers have been clamoring for such a product, and the "first step" in introducing Exiqon's service will occur in December, with a full launch planned for the summer of 2012. Exiqon will design the assays based on mRNA and miRNA targets of interest to its research customers.

The assays will be able to be run on "virtually" every q-PCR platform that is commercially available, Kongsbak said.

In addition, Exiqon is developing two diagnostic tests for colon cancer, one for detection and the other for recurrence. During the fourth quarter of 2011, validation data will become available for both tests.

The firm also is collaborating with researchers at New York University in the development of a prognostic test for melanoma. At the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in June, scientists from the school presented initial data. A validation study is continuing and a paper on the results is set for submission, Kongsbak said.

During the second quarter, the company recorded revenues of DKK27 million ($5 million), compared to DKK24 million a year ago. Results for the 2011 quarter were affected by a delay in signed orders, Kongsbak said, and Exiqon continues to resolve the issue, which is expected to last into the fourth quarter.

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