THE COMPANY ACQUIRES A PRESENCE IN THE DIAGNOSTICS ARENA
By Kurt Woock
The year 2012 saw little downtime for Life Technologies Corp, Carlsbad, Calif, and for Ronnie Andrews, its president of medical sciences. Andrews joined Life Technologies in February amid a very busy time in the company’s history. He oversaw multiple acquisitions and product launches as Life continues to expand its presence in the world of clinical diagnostics. CLP sat down with Andrews and discussed what mattered most in 2012 and what Andrews expects will be the big stories in 2013.
CLP: Let’ s start with 2012. Can you summarize what 2012 meant to Life Technologies?
Andrews: For medical sciences, 2012 was a very active year. Prior to 2012, our company was never in the pure clinical space. We were in a research, life-science tools space. The company spent the majority of 2009, 2010, and 2011 integrating some major acquisitions. So, 2012 was really the first year in which all the acquisitions started to meld together; we all became Life Technologies. We’ve grown from $94 million in revenues in 2002 to $3.8 billion in 2012: That’s a pretty rapid growth rate.
CLP: What were some of Life Technologies’ most significant accomplishments in 2012?
Andrews: We’ve recognized the value in thinking, “let’s get into the diagnostic game—let’s go big with our capabilities” instead of being just a product provider to laboratories. We got the strategy in place in Q1 and Q2, and then began execution of that strategy, which included the three acquisitions that have become the foundational acquisitions of the division. The Compendia acquisition was the foundational synthesis engine. The Navigenics acquisition complemented that: It gives us a physician portal to transport complex information to enable physicians and communities to understand the information. And obviously we got our first piece of proprietary content with the Pinpoint lung cancer test. We bought that company and launched it within six weeks, a testimony to the urgency of the organizational philosophy around the effort. We had a lot of achievements, but those are the big ones that really got us moving.
CLP: Are all of those acquisitions fully integrated with Life Technologies now?
Andrews: They are integrated and are actively involved. The Navigenics portal is being updated to focus on oncology from personal genomics. And the Compendia business—although it’s the most recent acquisition—is already having a major impact in our ability to get pharma to open up their doors and seek us as a major partner. We have a lot of work to do, and there are a lot of moving parts, but I’m really pleased with the progress we’ve made.
CLP: What were the most important product launches of 2012?
Andrews: I think the Ion PGM (Personal Genome Machine™) launch, the chip-based gene panel technology, was one of the primary highlights of the year in terms of product launches. Our ability to rapidly enhance panels on the chip technology using the AmpliSeq cancer panels and the AmpliSeq inherited disease panel have become mainstays of the translational medicine world.
CLP: Let’ s talk about 2013. What can we expect from Life Technologies?
Andrews: For us next year, our focus is to extend our lung cancer product line. Lung cancer continues to a major cause of death in many parts of the world including the US, and we want to lead the industry to tools that will help improve outcomes for the first time in over 50 years. We will launch a druggable target product to help identify the various options for physicians as they work with their patient on a treatment regimen. It will include all the various markers that might be involved in a solid tumor of the lung.
The second will be a pan-cancer test that will survey the genome and transcriptome, and we will throw in some protein applications as well. We will then use the Compendia bioinformatics tool to relate that to outcomes and offer physicians in the US and Europe access to an opportunity to find out which drug therapies will work best for that patient.
Our big launch in 2012 was the launch of the Pervenio™ test, which is the first lung cancer test in the market that takes a 14-gene signature and identifies stage-1 patients that need chemotherapy. Today, stage-1 patients get surgery and don’t get chemo, yet 35% to 40% of those patients show up within two years with a metastatic disease and a very high morbidity/mortality rate. This test is a game changer for those patients. This is going to be a very important tool for a disease where we haven’t really seen an improvement in survival rate in 50 years.
We will file the qPCR platform, QuantStudio™ Dx with the FDA in December. That product will be monumental because it uses a flexible platform and creates the opportunity to democratize complex molecular testing. Whether we’re looking at broad-based or multiplex targets, or whether we’re still looking for single-point mutations, we can do that with this platform. We’re launching with an infectious disease menu in Europe, and we plan to launch it in the US with similar infectious disease applications as well as cancer application which will come right behind it. It’s all about democratization and empowerment of large regional hospital clinics to offer these tests locally.
CLP: Do anticipate Life Technologies will continue acquiring other companies at its current pace?
Andrews: We created the foundational building blocks for doing the R&D internally, but we are actively seeking partnerships for content in key diseases. While we’re going to focus on lung cancer in 2013, we plan to actively seek partners for opportunities in inherited diseases, other cancers such as brain and prostate, and we’ll be working with partners for blood signatures in Alzheimer’s.
CLP: What’ s your assessment of where the diagnostics world is and how it’ s positioned for the near-future?
Andrews: I’ve lived in the clinical lab world for 28 years. For 10 or 15 years, the medical technology world couldn’t recruit people because we didn’t have anything going on. It was blood-based clinical chemistry—all automated. I think the next 2 to 3 years we will be at an inflection point where mainstream clinical lab constituents will have an opportunity to move into molecular testing, even at regional hospital labs. If medical technologists and pathologists seize the moment, we can once again become an important contributor to patient outcomes in complex diseases…It’s a great time to be in our industry!
Kurt Woock is associate editor for CLP.
In the video below, David Jablons, MD, professor in residence, department of surgery, and chief of thoracic surgery, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), provides background on the lung cancer assay Andrews discusses in Inside Track.