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Lippold, Marcus. (11/28/14). "[LSE] Interview: An Exclusive Interview with Thomas P. Heydler, CEO of Definiens AG, on the recent Acquisition of Definiens by AstraZeneca ".

Organisations Organisation Definiens AG
  Group AstraZeneca (Group)
  Organisation 2 [iito] Business Intelligence
Products Product Tissue Phenomics™
  Product 2 – [LSE] The European Life Sciences Web Portal
Index terms Index term Definiens–AstraZeneca: investment, 201411 acquisition $150m upfront + milestones by MedImmune
  Index term 2 Definiens–SEVERAL: investment, 201406 financing round €15m led by Wellington Partners + co-led by Gilde Healthcare
Persons Person Heydler, Thomas P. (Definiens 200411– CEO)
  Person 2 Lippold, Marcus ([iito] Business Intelligence 2002–)

[LSE] Interview
Special issue of the [LSE] Newsletter

An Interview with Thomas P. Heydler
– CEO of Definiens AG –
on the recent Acquisition of Definiens by AstraZeneca

by Marcus Lippold

[iito] Business Intelligence


Q: Dear Thomas, early in November Definiens announced the acquisition of the company by MedImmune, the biologicals unit of AstraZeneca, for $150 million plus milestones. Can you tell us a bit about what led to this deal?

A: Sure, Definiens is focussed on Tissue Phenomics, i.e., the analysis of digital images of tissue, and the integration and correlation of the respective data with other medical data, from genomic data to patient outcome data. Definitely, this is a field that receives a lot of attention at the moment as oncology as well as personalised medicine are »hot topics« today. So, many companies were interested in our activities.

Q: Just in June this year, you announced a new financing round, raising a total of €15 million from a group of VCs, led by new investor Wellington Partners. How does this fit with the trade sale of the company just a few months later?

A: We started fundraising in February and there was a great response from potential investors. During this time we were approached by several big companies, i.e., billion dollar players, who were interested in our technology and in eventually acquiring our company. While we pursued the financing we continued talking to these potential buyers, too.

Q: The IPO window has recently opened up again for biotech companies. Has working towards an IPO still been an option at the time of your fundraising?

A: Yes, these times are full of opportunities and surely pushing Definiens forward to an IPO has been one of the options.

Q: So, what finally led to the sale to AstraZeneca, just five months after closing your financing round?

A: Basically two reasons. First, our venture investors surely looked for the best option to get a good return on their investment. Second, the AZ deal offered the possibility to continue the Definiens business as a separate entity with the existing team of tissue phenomics professionals, and in the end, everything comes down to human capital, doesn’t it?!

Q: Now, that the deal is done, where do you go from here?

A: As told, Definiens intends to continue its own business, providing also services to third parties. To give an external example: since Roche acquired Ventana, Ventana still operates its own business and offers services to other pharma companies, while being a Roche company for some years now. By the way, while Ventana offers parts of the »hardware«, integrating lab automation, systems & reagents, Definiens focuses on the »software« side.

Q: You were acquired by the MedImmune unit of AstraZeneca; is this where Definiens will be added to the AZ corporate structure.

A: Yes, we will report to MedImmune and they will be our first point-of-contact within the AstraZeneca group.

Q: When I first heard of your deal, I was wondering, whether this makes sense and how you want to make the strategy work? A big pharma company buying a platform  technology company while continuing third party business "as usual", seems not to be in line with what happened in the market recently. Okay, you mentioned Ventana and Roche, but mostly I think the deals have been otherwise. Either, big companies spinning off platform technologies and/or giving way to external solution provides, as it started even decades ago with IT departments and afterwards clinical research units. Today, with networks all over the place, big companies are using specialised service providers from chemical, genomic to proteomic services and others. And when big players bought platform providers,  they rather tended to integrate these operations, either to include them directly in concrete proprietary research and development projects or to get a foothold in a specific technology area.

A: In general, this may hold true, but, as mentioned before, we think of it more like the Roche/Ventana model.

Q: However, it all boils down to two questions: First, will your connection to AstraZeneca limit your sales opportunities, making other big players suspicious and fearful of putting critical projects in the hands of a partner directly owned by a competitor? Second, will third party customers get the same quality services from Definiens as MedImmune?

A: Surely we will work closely with MedImmune to leverage our leading position in the area of tissue phenomics to push forward internal AZ products. At the same time, we will continue to work with our other customers in the same professional way as we did before. For some critical projects of strategic importance there may be a trade off, but I think this will be just a small part of the total market potential, and therefore our strategy will be viable.

Q: Thomas, one last question. As enabling technologies like genomics, proteomics and metabolomics become ever more cost effective and available, many say, the real problems move from sequencing the nucleic acids or proteins to analysing the resulting data; what do you think?

A: Definitely this is the trend. In the future, an ever larger part of the value added in the pharma industry will not be the drug treatment itself, but the knowledge enabling the decision which patient to treat with which kind of drugs. Often this will also include combination therapies. And the big pharma companies are already showing much more flexibility with regard to collaborating with each other to provide these combination therapies. One recent example is the collaboration of Merck Serono and Pfizer, announced just a few weeks ago. In the end Definiens wants to be on the "soft" side of this trend towards personalised medicine, which will ultimately combine diagnostics, therapy selection and the drugs, to treat patients as effectively as possible.

Q: Thomas, thank you very much for this interview!

The interview took place on Friday, 28 November 2014 via phone.

© 2014 by [iito] Business Intelligence

Record changed: 2017-04-02


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