NanoString Hires Genzyme Vet as CEO to Lead Foray Into Molecular Diagnostics

6/29/10Follow @xconomy

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for the NanoString job. He is married, with a two-year-old son and a newborn, six-week-old daughter. It was no small thing to consider moving his family across the country. For a few more weeks anyway, his family is still in Boston, although they are planning to move to Bellevue, WA, before the end of July, Gray says.

While Young told me back in February that he was willing to consider establishing NanoString’s headquarters somewhere else to recruit the right CEO, Gray said he felt that he needed to be in Seattle to be effective, and “close to the company center of gravity.” It probably didn’t hurt that we had our conversation on a beautiful summer afternoon in Seattle, but Gray said he’s thrilled to be here.

“NanoString was exciting enough that I probably would have gone somewhere less exciting than Seattle just to be a part of it,” Gray says.

Three things stand out for Gray on his to-do list as he gets up and running. The company must continue to build sales momentum for the nCounter system among its customer base of academic researchers, who use the tool to publish high-impact scientific papers. Second, he’s going to whittle down the company’s long list of market opportunities to bring more focus on a couple of top priorities. And third, he’s going to recruit a senior management team with the skills NanoString will need to make the transition from selling a tool to academic researchers into the completely different market of clinical diagnostics.

It sounds like he’s got some serious recruiting to do. NanoString has about 75 employees now, but it will look to add some key posts, like a head of R&D, a chief commercial officer, a chief medical officer, and people with experience in regulatory affairs—which is necessary for a diagnostic application.

The diagnostics market is something Gray knows well from his Genzyme days, and both he and Young have contacts in Big Pharma companies who may be interested in using the NanoString technology to develop companion diagnostics that will help select which patients are more likely to benefit from a new drug than others. This is one of the big trends at work in the era of cost-containment, particularly with cancer drugs, where many drugs only help one-fourth of patients, and huge amounts of money are spent treating people who won’t see any benefit.

Exactly how NanoString plans to tackle this market is still to be determined. It could form a partnership to develop a companion diagnostic tool with a Big Pharma company, develop the application on its own and lean on someone else’s distribution network, or go it alone, Gray says. If NanoString chooses the latter route, it will need to raise more venture capital. Running the kind of experiments that will win over diagnostic customers won’t come cheap.

“You want to prove that the tool is valuable before you try to sell it,” Gray says. “We will continue to need to raise money to succeed if we choose to go it alone in molecular diagnostics.”

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