The Niche

Stem-cell company Novocell brings in genomics CEO

Novocell, a San Diego company developing stem-cell technology for treating diabetes, has named its new CEO. John West has previously held management posts at Applied Biosystems. He was CEO of DNA sequencing company Solexa, until he sold it to Illumina for $600 million. (See the Novocell’s announcement and the San Diego Tribune article.

Novocell’s previous CEO, Alan Lewis, left last year to head the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which has awarded more than $1.3 billion to diabetes research, including $156 million last year. (According to the organization’s factsheet ) He had previously held leadership positions and Wyeth and Signal Pharmaceuticals and Celgene. His analysis of the stem-cell industry is recounted in our feature In search of a viable business model.

Here is an announcement of John West’s appointment as CEO in 2004 and a press release of John West’s resignation as VP of Sequencing at Illumina in February 2008.

So, why did one of the embryonic-stem-cell companies closest to developing cell therapy pick a CEO that has successfully run technology companies?

One idea is that the DNA-sequencing field is crowded and required some partnership. Another is that Novocell’s investors feel ready for its sale. After all, NovoNordisk announced a diabetes deal with stem-cell company Cellartis last year. And in April, Pfizer announced that it would be putting $100 million into its own stem cell research. The last funding round for Novocell that I could Google was for $25 million in 2007.

I know I have some industry-savvy readers, so if you send me good links and comments, I’ll post them. (It might take a couple days, as I’m travelling.)

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