Automation spin-off

NextGen divests automation arm to management-led eXeTek

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ANN ARBOR, Mich.—As part of its ongoing effort to streamline its business, NextGen Sciences has sold off its "gene-to-protein" automation and software business to eXeTek Ltd., a management-led spin-off. Former employees Stephen Woodall and Stuart Hill head eXeTek Ltd. The agreement involves the licensing of the expressionfactory, expressionworkstation and the controlling software suite orchestratorIMS.

Under terms of the deal, NextGen Sciences CEO Michael Pisano says the company will retain a 24 percent stake in eXeTek and also will receive a 5 percent royalty for three years.

Pisano says the divestment is in line with NextGen's strategic plan to focus its resources on growing the protein biomarker services business.

"In February, NextGen will close its U.K. facility and we will move the headquarters to Ann Arbor, Mich.," adds Pisano. "Everything except for one person will be in the U.S."
The Ann Arbor site is the former headquarters of Proteomic Research Services, a company Pisano co-founded in 2000 and which NextGen acquired in 2006.

The acquisition is a boost for eXeTek, according to Hill, giving the company the customer and service contracts for NextGen's gene-to-protein automation business.

"This acquisition positions eXeTek as an experienced and dedicated supplier in the gene-to-protein automation market," Hill says. "The management team at eXeTek has a very successful history with the customer base of acquired products, both from a business perspective and a hands-on technical role."

That experience, according to Hill, will enable the company to provide continuity to the acquired client base.

"The products and tools that we have acquired were designed from the ground up and with a high degree of flexibility," Hill says. "We expect to be expanding our range, both in terms of customizations for specific customers, as well as new products."

The deal nearly completes NextGen Sciences' refocusing efforts. "We closed the protein expression operation and sold the assets, and currently are in discussions with a company interested in buying the electrophoresis business, and we are currently doing our due diligence in those discussions," Pisano says.

NextGen's will now focus on the biomarker services areas. "We really viewed this as an area with tremendous growth potential for us," Pisano says. "With all of the techniques, technologies and expertise in place in these areas, we knew we could put together a solid program."

While a number of biomarker-discovery firms and proteomics service companies have come and gone in recent years, Pisano sas the reason for past failures is validation and confirmation often did not follow the initial discovery work.

"Too many companies were just doing biomarker discovery," he says. "There are a lot of companies doing biomarker research. The piece that is missing is the ability to validate those biomarkers."

NextGen, according to Pisano, is doing biomarker discovery, assay development and testing.

"The way we do assay development is quick," he said. "We can do it in weeks to months compared to years. We offer the ability to validate all of the proteins and let the data allow those proteins to fall out. We've developed assays from as few as three proteins all the way up to as many as 30 proteins in a single assay. And these are validated assays that have followed the FDA guidelines for assays to be used with data submissions."

Amid today's economic turmoil, Pisano says NextGen will be poised to take advantage as pharmas trim their budgets and cut spending, outsourcing work to contract research organizations.

"In the protein biomarker arena, outsourcing is going to be the way they plan to do this," Pisano adds. DDN

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