April 7, 2014 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Biorepository Services, Biomarking Profiling and Genomics Analysis for Clinical and R&D Markets
GA 30071, USA
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – April 7, 2014
CEOCFO: Mr. Boisjoli, what was the concept when you founded AKESOgen?
Mr. Boisjoli: The whole idea was to establish a company that would be able to serve various academic, pharmaceutical and research organizations with molecular services all the way starting with DNA and RNA isolation to gene expression, doing genotyping, methylation, biobanking and eventually sequencing services.
CEOCFO: Why the need for a new company to do that? Is it a new market or are there more companies in existence that are just not doing it well?
Mr. Boisjoli: If we go back over the last couple of years, most of this type of work has been done by the universities, and there are a handful of companies that have been doing it around the US and in Europe. We felt that Atlanta, where we are based, needed a regional service provider to help with the institutions that are in Atlanta, namely some of the universities that are not as quick on their turnaround times. It was also for some of the larger institutions such as the CDC, American Cancer Society and similar types of research organizations.
Mr. Boisjoli: We have been going for three years now. We started off in a lab that we built out in Norcross, and we had a 4,000 foot footprint. We have just recently moved to a lab that has actually probably tripled the size of our lab. Our office space and available space for genomics and bio banking has also tripled, so we are currently in 13,700 square feet of laboratory, offices and bio banking space.
CEOCFO: Are there particular sectors or types of companies that you would like to work with more or that you see a need to make more inroads?
Mr. Boisjoli: We are looking at servicing more pharmaceutical companies as we go into the future and more on the clinical-type services including clinical trials and clinical genetic testing. Clinical-type services are more of a recurring type of test or service that we would provide on an ongoing basis with various biological samples coming in on a regular basis compared to some of the other contract work that we do for research, which would be, say, 1,000 samples that come in and we would do any one of the services that we offer over a period of time. The regularity and the fact that we are building some proprietary services and technologies on molecular testing will enable us to do further clinical tests as we move forward.
CEOCFO: Have you started to reach out to the companies you are talking about? Do you have a strategy in place or is it a little too early?
Mr. Boisjoli: No, we are currently working with a couple of companies, and we are establishing different partnerships with various companies that serve pharma. We are basically the laboratory in the background that is doing the clinical tests on a regular basis to a very high CLIA standard, and we are just in the process of getting final accreditation to be a GLP laboratory. That is a laboratory that is qualified as good laboratory practices which is required for most pharma work.
CEOCFO: Why will these partners want to work with you as opposed to some of their current sources?
Mr. Boisjoli: The main reasons that people work with AKESOgen would be the level of quality of our work. Our scientists are all dedicated and passionate about the services they are providing all the way from DNA and RNA isolations up to the genomic analysis of the various samples that we are processing. Our chief scientific officer, Mark Bouzyk, is very well known in the molecular science and laboratory space and has been able to draw upon a large following of individuals and companies that appreciate this service but also the advice he is able to provide customers around their sample management all the way through to the services we provide on those samples and the high quality of data that we are able to obtain in our laboratories.
CEOCFO: Are the results all from the equipment, from the design of the test, or is there interpretation of the results?
Mr. Boisjoli: We start out with either blood samples – a biological tissue anywhere from stools to saliva or whatever type of sample. We utilize various instrumentation to isolate the DNA and/or RNA, and the expertise at that level is to use the right types of chemicals to ensure that we are able to effectively and efficiently extract the most DNA by volume for our customer. That DNA has a purity level, which we will test every sample that comes out, to ensure that we are getting this high quality. Depending on the expertise and the quality of the machine or instrument being used, this is what enables us to do high-quality research and provide high-quality data to our customer. That high level of DNA quality samples is then either given back to our customer, who may use it in their own instruments to do sequencing or genotyping, or we will do the downstream analysis ourselves. It is the quality of the starting material and the DNA or RNA isolation that enables us to get high quality genotyping information out of our downstream instrumentation. Once that data comes out, we do a certain amount of interpretation, but it is mainly the customer that takes the data that we provide through a secure protocol. We can do it through email, but we prefer to upload it on dedicated websites that are secure because of confidential information. The customer then takes that data, and they are then able to interpret the data either for their patient or for their research work.
Mr. Boisjoli: This is the largest contract of this type ever awarded in the United States for genotyping. We made a proposal in response to a VA RFP (request for proposals) we received in early 2013. Our team, led by Mark Bouzyk, our chief scientific officer, led the way of preparing all the requested information for the Department of Veteran Affairs. The VA had some questions and they performed diligence on AKESOgen. Shortly thereafter, they awarded the contract to us in late 2013. For us, this is the largest contract that we have obtained to date, and we have had to ramp up both on instrumentation and on staff to enable us to deliver on this very interesting project. The information to be derived from this project will be a game changer for the Veterans and for the personalized healthcare industry.
CEOCFO: I imagine it will also open the door when you are talking with other companies about using your services!
Mr. Boisjoli: One of the reasons that we believe the Department of Veteran Affairs came to us is because they did ask for references from some of our other tier one customers, and we do not know what the tier one customers said, but they were obviously happy with the services that they had been provided by AKESOgen or the last three years since our inception. That paved the way to the VA providing us with this very exciting contract. We do work for some of the large institutions in the Atlanta area, including some of the universities, and we believe that some of those scientific people at high levels were questioned on the ability of AKESOgen to deliver and on the quality of our work. It seems the answers that were provided on our quality matched the needs of the Veterans’ Affairs Department.
CEOCFO: You have a background in both pharma and finance. What did you bring from earlier experiences that has helped you guide AKESOgen?
Mr. Boisjoli: My original background is that I am a CPA by profession. I started out as an accountant and then moved over to the investing banking world and did that for roughly 10 years. In the early 2000s, I founded Xanthus, a company in the biotech area developing therapeutics for oncology which had no revenue; the second company was Topign and was involved in therapeutics for asthma and COPD. What I learned there is that quality of data is the most important aspect of anything you do in the life sciences field. When we were doing our clinical trials and developing our therapeutics, we ensured that our scientists did not cut any corners and made sure that all the data was done to the correct standard so that when you do go and begin partnership discussions with pharmaceutical companies, they believe in the data and understand that what you are presenting is an accurate picture and reflection of the work that has been done. The cost of doing this type of accuracy in our laboratories today to CLIA and GLP standards is obviously more expensive than doing regular lab work without the various steps associated with CLIA and GLP. However, AKESOgen’s board of directors’ favor us taking this more rigorous regulated approach to ensure standardized procedures within our laboratories enabling the best quality data. Quality of data is one of the main things that I learned from having two companies that I had been associated with in the life sciences. The other matter is the whole concept of controlling costs and working within a budget. There is the one aspect of trying to keep great quality, but the other matter is trying to keep our projects within budget and on time. It is a fine and delicate balance, but one has to keep an eye on these factors throughout to have success.
CEOCFO: How is business? Are you funded to do the push and expansion in to new markets?
Mr. Boisjoli: AKESOgen has been funded by the partners. We have not sought any external venture capital funding, and all funding has been provided by the partners, other than a small research grant that was obtained early on. Now, we have some normal, commercial banking relationships that helps us with some of our equipment financing and the sort all on a commercial basis and not on venture capital loan basis or any other basis. We have not been restricted by the capital we have, because we have been able and fortunate enough to fund the operations to the level that we need to have funded them to obtain both the quality of our product and the data that we provide to our customers as well as working with a budget. We have been able to acquire all the equipment that we need. We are currently looking to acquire a sequencing machine because we have a lot of demand for sequencing. This is in the next gen sequencing space, and we hope to have one of those instruments within the next couple of months to provide a complete service in this area.
CEOCFO: Put it all together for our readers. Why should the life science industry pay attention to AKESOgen?
I think AKESOgen is one
of the few service provider companies that is truly entrepreneurial both
scientifically and business wise. Our scientific know-how coupled with our
administrative and financial capabilities support our laboratory team who
provide the data and the service that we offer to our customers. I talked
about Mark Bouzyk, our chief scientific officer, who has extensive
experience in all aspects of genomics and pharmacogenomics working to a very
high standard. Dr. Bouzyk is able to add value to any genomics project by
discussing his approach and recommendations with scientists or customers
asking questions at any level. He has written articles on bio banking and
other areas of his genetics expertise. Our main competitive advantage is our
quality. It is the way we are managed, and the most important aspect of our
business is the quality service that we provide to our valued customers. For
this reason, we believe that AKESOgen will grow substantially over the next
couple of years. We are taking on further clinical tests, and we are using a
portion of our profits to reinvest in various clinical tests. These will be
proprietary clinical tests, and this is the way we intent to build our
business for the community and for our customers in the southeast area.
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