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Kauten Takes Helm of Lucigen as it Heads Down New Diagnostic Path

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

Ralph Kauten, one of Wisconsin’s more successful biotech entrepreneurs, was named CEO of Lucigen, a local life sciences supplier that is developing technology to rapidly identify pathogens, including Ebola.

Kauten takes over for molecular biologist David Mead, who has served as the Middleton, WI-based company’s CEO since he founded it in 1998. Mead was pulling double duty as chief scientific officer, a role he will maintain. With Kauten at the helm, Mead joked that his stress level has “gone down by one half, and I have extended my lifespan.”

“I was trying to do two jobs, CEO and CSO, and things were falling through the cracks,” Mead told Xconomy in an e-mail message. “We have a stronger team now, and as CSO I am contributing based on a skill set that suits my background. We are positioning the company for strong growth, and that requires a CEO focused on building the business.”

Kauten is a decorated biotech serial entrepreneur who has had a hand in the success of several well-known companies in Madison, WI. He was an early employee and vice president of life sciences supplier Promega, which was founded in 1978, and during his 13 years there he helped grow the business from a small startup to $300 million in annual sales and more than 700 employees worldwide. In 1992, he co-founded PanVera, a maker of proteins and drug screening products, which merged in 2000 with San Diego-based Aurora Biosciences in an $86 million stock deal. In 1996, Kauten co-founded Mirus Bio, a developer of RNA interference drug delivery technology that Roche acquired in 2008 for $125 million.

Ralph KautenKauten (pictured left) was Lucigen’s first investor and has served as its board chair for the past four years, Mead said. Lucigen has raised around $5 million from investors, Kauten said. Lucigen has also won more than $26 million in federal grants, Mead said.

Kauten takes over a company embarking on its most ambitious project to date. Lucigen has primarily supplied life sciences researchers with a suite of products that enable genetic cloning and sequencing. But as Xconomy detailed in January, Lucigen is now trying to develop a device that would run a nucleic acid-based test for quickly detecting infections in patients’ samples right at the point of care in, say, a hospital or doctor’s office. The technology has a multitude of applications, Lucigen says, from identifying common infections like flu and strep to diagnosing more serious diseases, like Ebola.

Lucigen is still conducting research and seeking partners to help it co-develop and commercialize products using the technology, its website says.

“We’re looking to fund these projects,” Kauten said. “I’ll be certainly doing some fundraising. One place I’ve had a lot of experience and think I can be helpful in is telling the story of what we’ve got going on here.”

Kauten will also continue serving as CEO of Madison-based cancer drug developer Quintessence Biosciences. He said he will be able to handle both roles because Quintessence president and chief operating officer Laura Strong oversees most of the day-to-day operations.