New CEO to drive forward Population Genetit Technologies

New CEO to drive forward PGT’s multiple genome mapping technology


PGT’s new CEO, Alan Schafer

Alan Schafer, part of the team that sold two-year old Cambridge-based Hexagen to Incyte for over $5m in 1998, has returned to the world of early-stage life sciences as the new CEO of Population Genetic Technologies (PGT), the MRC-LMB spin out.

Taking the place vacated in 2010 by Mel Kronick and with £3.6m from October’s Series B fundraising, Schafer will look to focus areas for the application of what the company says is now a validated technology and begin building industry and academic collaborations.

Schafer, who started two weeks ago, says he’s looking forward to returning to the startup environment where the pace of things is more speed-boat than oil tanker.

Recently an idea came up and we said, ‘right, we’ll get together this afternoon and do it for tomorrow’, said Schafer. Things can just happen like that when you’re working with a small team of people, you can sit in the room and make things happen.

Kronick oversaw PGT’s Series A funding round of £3.8m in February 2008 and a further undisclosed figure in 2009. A fellow American, Schafer now steps in with his overall goal of taking the technology through to the point that it has an impact on human health, it’s important to say this, said Schafer.

PGT’s technology can use a gene sequencing machine to map hundreds of genomes at once, making studies of large populations that highlight rare genetic variants cheaper and a realistic option for small research laboratories, not just the wealthy few. By expanding the number of labs that can perform these experiments, the chances of new treatments, including personalised medicines, grows substantially.

We have validated our technology platforms and built important collaborations with world class clinical research groups and now look forward to the next phase in our development with Alan at the helm, said Sam Eletr, a co-founder and chairman of PGT. Our aim is to provide an efficient route for population-scale genetic analysis and biomarker discovery for application in medicine and agriculture.

Schafer says this means not just providing partners with the technology, but delivering a full solution that can help help pick out some of the most important variants and biomarkers to work on.

As well as experience at the Wellcome Trust as director of Science Funding and at GlaxoSmithKline where he was global VP of Technology Development, Schafer has spent a substantial amount of time as a consultant to the venture capital industry, which may hold PGT in good stead in the future.

The company also has a very strong heritage. It was formed in 2004 from work at the MRC-Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, including that of another of its co-founders is Nobel Laureate, Sydney Brenner.

MRC-LMB staff have not only been awarded nine Nobel Prizes shared between 13 scientists, but has been instrumental in many of Cambridge’s most successful biotech companies including Domantis, Cambridge Antibody Technology, Ribotargets, Protein Design Labs, Celltech, Heptares and Biogen.

Schafer currently holds the position of Adjunct Professor of Innovation at the Imperial College London Business School. Over the last year he played a major role in leading the development of the Translation, Technology Transfer and Innovation strategy of the Francis Crick Institute.

Between 2007 and 2010 Schafer worked at the Wellcome Trust in several roles including director of Science Funding. Before that he was global VP of Technology Development at GlaxoSmithKline.