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Terry Pizzie appointed new CEO of Horizon Discovery as revenue grows 52 per cent

Terry Pizzie makes an epic journey into the Arctic Circle each year to go sea fishing
Terry Pizzie makes an epic journey into the Arctic Circle each year to go sea fishing

Gene-editing firm appoints from within to replace Dr Darrin Disley

Richard Vellacott, who was interim CEO of Horizon Discovery, returns to chief financial officer
Richard Vellacott, who was interim CEO of Horizon Discovery, returns to chief financial officer

Horizon Discovery Group has promoted from within by appointing Terry Pizzie as its chief executive officer with immediate effect.

The Waterbeach-based gene editing and gene modulation company announced the appointment on the day it revealed encouraging preliminary results for 2017, with revenue growth up 52 per cent to £36.5million.

It also announced that it believed Cambridge protein and research tool firm Abcam’s recent £270million offer to acquire Horizon, which it rejected, had “fundamentally” undervalued the company and the board saw “little strategic merit in the proposed combination”. Abcam responded on Wednesday (May 9) by announcing it was not pursuing the offer.

Mr Pizzie takes over following the departure of Dr Darrin Disley, who left as Horizon’s CEO in February to pursue other interests. Since then, Richard Vellacott has been leading the firm as interim CEO.

Mr Pizzie, who joined Horizon in 2017 as head of commercial operations, has close to 30 years of leadership experience within the biotechnology tools sector.

The company said he proved to be the best candidate from a field of internal and external candidates.

Since joining Horizon, he has had a “significant” impact, Horizon added, by rapidly building a “world-class commercial team” and enabling them to sell across the full Horizon portfolio, while forming teams that helped add value to key customer accounts.

Dr Ian Gilham, executive chairman at Horizon, said: “I am delighted to announce the appointment of Terry as Horizon’s new CEO, following a rigorous process that assessed both internal and external candidates.

Dr Darrin Disley, who left as CEO of Horizon Discovery in February 2018, has been made an OBE
Dr Darrin Disley, who left as CEO of Horizon Discovery in February 2018, has been made an OBE

“As the process evolved it became clear that Terry was the stand out candidate to deliver on the strategy and growth of the group.

“Since joining Horizon, Terry has been instrumental in building a world-class commercial team, and his outstanding leadership and highly valuable commercial experience will help lead the company through its next phase of growth and development as we transition from building scale through acquisitions towards becoming a sustainably profitable business driven by demand for our market-leading products and services in both gene editing and gene modulation.

“With Horizon’s strong technology and commercial platforms and a highly experienced commercially-focused management team in place, Horizon is ideally positioned to execute on its growth plan and create value for shareholders.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Richard for his dedicated work as interim chief executive officer, ensuring the smooth day-to-day running of the business. He will resume his role as chief financial officer with the Company following an orderly transition to Terry.”

Mr Pizzie has previously worked for Pacific Biosciences, first as vice president Europe, and later as head of global sales. His other leadership roles have included director of global commercial operations at Genetix before its acquisition by Danaher and senior vice president of global commercial operations at Swedish biotechnology firm Biacore, acquired by GE Life Sciences in 2006.

He started his career at Applied Biosystems in 1988 in a sales role and rose to vice president Europe in 2003.

He has a degree in physiology and biochemistry from the University of Reading.

The 57-year-old said: “Horizon has built a highly successful global business which has a world-leading position in gene editing and gene modulation.

Staff at work in a Horizon Discovey lab on Cambridge Research Park, Waterbeach. Picture: Keith Heppell
Staff at work in a Horizon Discovey lab on Cambridge Research Park, Waterbeach. Picture: Keith Heppell

“We are now an established market leader across the high value and high margin RNAi and CRISPR end-markets which are estimated to be worth £2.2 billion and growing at approximately 20 per cent per year.

“The company is also a technology leader in the broader field of cell engineering as evidenced by the commercial success with important customers in this field.

“I am honoured to have been appointed to lead the group at such an important stage in the company’s development.

“With the strong product and commercial platforms in place and our presence in high-growth markets I look forward to working with the board and executive management team to deliver on our vision and strategy to build value for our customers, patients and shareholders.”

He takes over at a time when Horizon’s financial position shows signs of strengthening although it made a bigger loss in 2017 than the previous year.

Preliminary results for last year show·group revenue increased by 52 per cent to £36.5million (50 per cent on a constant currency basis), up from £24.1million on 2016.

Organic group revenue - excluding that from Dharmacon, acquired last year - increased 14 per cent to £27.5million and product revenues rose 101 per cent to £22.8million, up markedly on 2016’s £11.3million.

The company’s margin rose to 62 per cent, up from 54 per cent and earnings - excluding exceptional items and non-recurring closure costs - were £1.1million, compared to a £4million loss in 2016.

Overall, though, it made a pre-tax loss of £14.3 million, compared to £12.5million in 2016. Horizon said this was due to research and development costs rising to £11.9million from £6.2 million plus higher sales, marketing and distribution costs.

The acquisition of Dharmacon, overseen by Dr Disley, appears to be a fruitful one for Horizon though, with its gross margin in the four months from September 1, 2017, at 63 per cent.

Mr Pizzie said: “2017 was a transformational year for the group with the acquisition of Dharmacon – which is already performing well with more value enhancement synergies becoming apparent every day; an over-subscribed £80million fundraising; the deepening of our core gene editing capabilities; the strengthening of our commercial operations; and the rationalisation of internal operations, such that the business is fit to scale.

“These activities have significantly enhanced the group’s operations and Horizon Discovery is now a global leader in the gene editing and gene modulation market and has the technical and commercial platforms in place to deliver significant value for shareholders.

“In the first quarter the group has made a solid start to the year and is trading in line with board expectations. We have continued to deliver growth, while implementing operational efficiency and cost control measures that together have put the group on a path to sustainable and profitable growth.

“With a clear vision and strategy for the business, a strong team in place focused on delivery, and good long-term growth prospects from our underlying business, we have high confidence for the future.”

Dr Gilham added: “Horizon has had a successful 2017 and has established itself as a market leader across the RNAi and CRISPR end-markets, which are expected to grow at a CAGR of approximately 18 per cent between 2017 and 2021.

“Furthermore, given limited direct competition in its core focus areas, the company expects to accelerate its penetration of multiple fast growing gene modulation and gene editing market segments including engineered in vitro and in vivo disease models, cell-based assays and screening, bioproduction and molecular diagnostics, all of which are expected to grow at double-digit percentages in the near term.

“With Terry’s appointment today, Horizon has a strong and highly experienced management team who are ideally positioned to execute Horizon’s growth plan and create value for shareholders.”

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