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

Xconomy Seattle — 

Seattle-based NanoString Technologies hasn’t had a permanent CEO for more than a year, and now the search has ended in Boston. The company, which makes instruments to help scientists perform sophisticated genetic analyses, has named Brad Gray, the former vice president of product and business development for Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme Genetics, as its new president and CEO.

Gray comes to the job after almost six years at Genzyme, where he got experience in the pharmaceutical, venture capital, and diagnostics operations inside the biotech giant (NASDAQ: GENZ). Before that, he spent four years working with healthcare clients at McKinsey & Co. He’s got a bachelor’s in economics and management from the University of Oxford in the U.K., and a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from MIT. Gray, a first-time CEO, was still getting settled into his new office in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood when I stopped by for an interview yesterday.

NanoString’s new leader joins at a pivotal moment for the company, as it seeks to grow into a stronger commercial enterprise. NanoString, founded in 2004 with technology from the Institute for Systems Biology, introduced its first commercial product in July 2008. It’s a digital instrument for academic biologists to help them determine the extent to which many genes are dialed on or off in a sample—what’s known as gene expression analysis. The company has built a base of academic customers at top institutions like the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Caltech, and the University of Washington. While the company raised $30 million in a round led by Clarus Ventures a year ago, it hasn’t yet turned profitable, and it has been operating without a permanent CEO since Perry Fell resigned more than a year ago.

Brad Gray

Brad Gray

NanoString executive chairman Bill Young, an industry leader who’s currently the chairman of Biogen Idec, said when he joined NanoString in February that the company has some very good people, but it needs “consistent leadership that can take the company to the next level.”

Gray says he envisions NanoString growing into a “very valuable company.”

“I want this to be a company that helps researchers make important biomedical discoveries, and helps physicians to translate those discoveries,” Gray says.

NanoString first hit Gray’s radar screen about a year ago, when he was running the diagnostics operation inside Genzyme. Scientists inside Genzyme told him about the NanoString instrument, called nCounter, and noted that its ability to generate digital readouts on hundreds of genes in a relatively small sample could be useful inside Genzyme. Gray noticed the company again in February when Young was named executive chairman of NanoString. Young, who formerly ran Monogram Biosciences, had noticed Gray’s work at Genzyme, where he ran a $370 million business in 2009, essentially one of the top five diagnostic service providers in the U.S., Gray says.

“We had a few interactions when Bill was at Monogram, and we had a good rapport,” Gray says.

That got Gray to listen when the recruiter called. But when he started taking a closer look, he found the opportunity more and more attractive. He liked the fact that NanoString’s instrument has broad ability to do “multi-plexed” experiments that, instead of looking at one gene, are able to analyze hundreds of genes in a sample to look at a symphony of what might be going wrong in complex diseases like cancer, diabetes, or inflammation. He liked the digital precision of the NanoString results. And, based on his experience in diagnostics, he really liked that the NanoString tool isn’t thrown off track by Formalin-Fixed, Paraffin-Embedded preservation techniques that are commonly used in medical facilities, but sometimes cause problems for competing devices.

Still, this was a big decision to make personally and professionally. Gray, a native of Columbia, SC, had never even been to Seattle until he flew here to interview … Next Page »

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