Darrin Disley ends tenure as Horizon Discovery CEO

PUBLISHED: 12:21 20 February 2018 | UPDATED: 12:40 20 February 2018

Dr Darrin Disley, who has quit as CEO of life sciences firm Horizon Discovery 'to pursue other business interests'

Dr Darrin Disley, who has quit as CEO of life sciences firm Horizon Discovery 'to pursue other business interests'


Life sciences boss helped create world-class gene-editing tools and services

Darrin Disley at Horizon DiscoveryDarrin Disley at Horizon Discovery

Darrin Disley has left Horizon Discovery after 11 years as chief executive officer.

Since taking on the role, Dr Disley has steered Waterbeach-based Horizon through an AIM listing and acquisitions including the £85million purchase of rival Dharmacon from General Electric last year. He leaves a world-class management team in place running a key global life sciences firm, providing gene-editing tools and services to biotech firms.

The firm’s statement said: “The chairman of the board, Dr Ian Gilham, will assume the role of executive chairman and Richard Vellacott, chief financial officer and deputy CEO, will become chief executive officer, both in an interim capacity. A search for a CEO successor will begin immediately.”

Dr Disley’s record was noted by Dr Ian Gilham, chairman of Horizon Discovery’s board.

Work in the labs at Horizon Discovery on Cambridge Research Park, Waterbeach. Picture: Keith HeppellWork in the labs at Horizon Discovery on Cambridge Research Park, Waterbeach. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I would like to express my sincere appreciation for Darrin’s achievements as CEO since he joined in 2007 when Horizon was a start-up company through to now being a global leader in gene editing and gene modulation,” Dr Gilham said. “During his tenure, he has built a world-class management team, set a highly successful commercial and business strategy, led the company through several financing rounds, including the company’s successful IPO in 2014, and driven multiple acquisitions including the company’s recent transformational deal with Dharmacon. We support Darrin’s decision to step down at this time. We look forward, in due course, to announcing the appointment of a new CEO, who will lead the company through the next phase of its growth and development.”

The announcement said only that Dr Disley “has decided to step down as chief executive officer in order to pursue other business interests”.

Dr Disley, who has a strong interest in mentoring and education, said: “I am proud to have led the team through this successful period and feel now is the right time, after 11 years as chief executive officer, to hand over the reins to pursue my other business interests. I know the group and the current leadership team is the strongest it has ever been. I wish everyone well and look forward to watching Horizon’s future successes.”

The development caught many by surprise. Dr Disley is one of the city’s most popular life science figures as well as being one of the most successful.

A chart showing the progression of Horizon Discovery since its creation in Cambridge Research Park, Waterbeach. Picture: Keith HeppellA chart showing the progression of Horizon Discovery since its creation in Cambridge Research Park, Waterbeach. Picture: Keith Heppell

A spokesperson for Horizon told the Cambridge Independent: “Darrin informed the board of his decision to step down in order to pursue other business interests. As Horizon is a listed business this required the company to make an announcement in a timely manner, which the group has done. The executive chairman and interim CEO are both in their positions on a temporary basis and a search for a CEO successor has begun. There is no time set for the appointment of the new CEO, however, Ian and Richard are the best people to lead the company together with the strong leadership team. They are committed to ensuring a smooth transition to a new, permanent CEO.”

The company announced on February 8 that Dr Disley bought 190,985 ordinary shares in Horizon Discovery, giving him a shareholding of 916,377 shares, or 0.6 per cent of the company.

Richard Vellacott, interim chief executive officer of Horizon Discovery, said: “Horizon has never been in a stronger position operationally and I would like to thank Darrin for everything he has contributed to Horizon over the past many years - he has been truly inspirational in the evolution of our strategy and the rapid growth of the business, which is now a global leader in gene editing and gene modulation. I look forward to working closely with our focused and strong leadership team.”

The statement ended: “Due to the leadership changes, the group’s Capital Markets Day scheduled for February 20, 2018 will now take place on March 5, 2018.”

Shares dipped 1 per cent to 198p in the hours following the announcement.

A trading update from Horizon issued on February 1 indicated that the group expects 2017 revenues - due to be announced on May 8 - to have grown by approximately 51 per cent on a reported basis on 2016’s £24.1million.

It expects that earnings (EBITDA) before exceptional items and discontinued operations for the full year in line with a forecast loss of £1.7million. Earnings for the fourth quarter of 2017 are expected to be positive and the group ended the year with a strong cash position of approximately £29 million, with positive gross accounts receivable of approximately £11.4 million,

Dr Disley said: “Supported by encouraging initial results following the acquisition of Dharmacon, our outlook for growth in 2018 remains strong and we are committed to achieving near-term profitability and free cash generation as revenues and margins continue to scale beyond our predominantly fixed cost base.”

Earlier this month Horizon Discovery announced that it had signed a licence agreement with a US immuno-oncology therapeutics developer.

The deal will enable the undisclosed partner to deploy Horizon’s proprietary technologies in the development and manufacture of a novel biomanufacturing cell line for commercial use. The Waterbeach life sciences firm says the non-exclusive out-licence demonstrates its ability to generate revenues from its intellectual property.

For an undisclosed sum, the partner will be able to use a novel cell line engineering technology and has non-exclusive rights to Horizon’s proprietary Helitron transposon gene editing technology.

Dr Disley said of the agreement: “Innovation and leverage of our capabilities, of which both intermediate cell line engineering and transposon technologies are key examples, are important parts of our strategy as we continue to develop novel ways to address the key challenges facing our customers.

“This agreement demonstrates the impact of this approach and the value of licences to our novel technologies, and we anticipate this becoming a significant additional revenue stream for the group going forward.”

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