‘There is No Life Sciences Equivalent of Apple,’ Horizon Discovery’s New CEO

Horizon Discovery’s new CEO Terry Pizzie says the rate of technology evolution is greater than at any other time in his illustrious career as he reflects on the state of the bioprocessing services industry.

Terry Pizzie joined Horizon Discovery Group in 2017 as head of commercial operations, but in May this year he was appointed to the top job.

Pizzie has worked in life sciences for close to 30 years and spoke with BioProcess Insider about the changes he has witnessed, industry consolidation, and his strategy for Horizon Discovery going forward.

You have close to 30 years in the Biotechnology Tools sector. How different is the space now to how it was when you began your career?

Terry Pizzie, CEO of Horizon Discovery

TP: When I started in the space our customers were often specialists in their field, for instance somebody wanting a DNA synthesizer would often be a DNA chemist and spend reasonable sums of money and time making oligonucleotides, precious commodities that were used sparingly, today you can go on line and order an oligo, it will be with you in no time, will cost very little and what isn’t required from an experiment will be thrown away – how life has changed!

The size of the market has dramatically changed as well. It was just a few well-funded specialists in the early 1990s, but today biotech tools play an important role in the lives of millions of patients worldwide, and many tens of thousands of scientists are engaged in their use on a daily basis… and the pace of innovation is only getting faster.

What do you believe to be the biggest disruptor in the bioproduction tools space during your career?

I think it’s hard to overlook the fundamental shift from prokaryotic expression to mammalian expression, predominantly driven by uptake of CHO platforms based around DHFR and GS type selection. CHO cells are good factories! Twenty plus years ago you were forced to choose between economically efficient production in prokaryotes and the ability to produce more biologically relevant structures in mammalian systems. Having scale and quality through effective deployment of mammalian manufacturing platforms has enabled better drugs and this is reflected proportionally by the number of top selling biologics.

When did Big Pharma shift away from developing tools in-house, change and what drove that?

TP: The model for drug discovery has been constantly shifting since the era of blockbuster drugs ended.  Precision medicine and cell therapy are two of the biggest drivers, with regulatory and economic challenges ever present and changing.  The rate of technology evolution in 2018 is greater than at any other time in my career and it is clear that adapting quickly is critical to success.

Technologies such as next generation sequencing and gene editing have changed the landscape for both drug discovery and diagnostics. What is really interesting is how quickly such technologies as NGS have impacted clinical programs. This is in part enabled by larger Pharma being more open to external innovation both in terms of therapeutic pipeline and platform technologies for R&D through to manufacturing.

For example, bioproduction as I have mentioned, was once the preserve of companies able to make billion-dollar investments in massive manufacturing plants. The barrier to entry has since reduced considerably, driven by prioritization of flexibility over scale and supported by single use technology.

How consolidated is the biotech tools industry, and do you expect to see more mergers among companies competing in the space?

TP: I have a mixed view. Clearly there has been significant consolidation already with the likes of Life Technologies and Sigma-Aldrich being acquired in recent years.  At the same time, innovation in the life science space remains fractured; there is no life sciences equivalent of Apple. Even in the gene editing space, no one group can lay claim to “defining gene editing”.  Therefore, looking forward, I see there being a balance between channel optimization and genuine innovation.

Where does Horizon Discovery fit in?

TP: Horizon is an experienced player in the gene editing space, however in a conservative industry like bioproduction, we’re still a relative newbie.  We’ve made our mark with our CHO Source platform which is a GS based expression system, and away from the limelight we’ve invested heavily in R&D to build the next version of CHO Source. How well that platform can deliver will really determine our trajectory in the bioproduction space. I’m excited about it.

How do you intend to steer Horizon through its next phase of growth and development?

TP: Horizon has always been an exciting company. We have really smart people and we’ve shown a lot of breadth for a relatively young company. We do need to keep connecting more with customers and putting them at the centre of what we do. After all, they’re the ones doing the amazing science.  We provide the products and services to support them on their journey.

The firm has made a number of acquisitions. What is your M&A strategy going forward?

M&A has always been part of our growth strategy, balanced with growth from internal R&D. In mid-2017 Horizon completed the acquisition of Dharmacon from General Electric. This was a large bite for us to take, and we’re mainly focused at the moment on ensuring that we are able to maximize the commercial opportunities of the enlarged business, but our eyes are always open for the right opportunity.

Are there any areas Horizon is looking to invest in?

TP: We are constantly looking out for ways to develop our product in ways that will benefit our customers from a productivity and quality point of view, we have ideas internally that we are working on and are always open to good ideas from outside that we might want to take advantage of.

You have also been subject to takeover bids (Abcam recently had a US$370 million bid rejected). Is this something you would consider in the future?

TP: We are always looking to achieve the best value for our shareholders, so nothing is ever off the table. That said, we have a very talented workforce that are passionate about delivering…I strongly believe Horizon can deliver.

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