Frank Witney, President CEO
2000–2002: President & COO, Packard Instruments; President, Drug Discovery Tools Division, Perkin Elmer Life Science 2002–2008: President and CEO, Panomics Jan 2009–March 2009: EVP & CCO, Affymetrix April 2009–May 2011: President & CEO, Dionex July 2011–present: President & CEO, Affymetrix “I am presently in my second stint at Affymetrix. Previously I worked for Affymetrix as Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer following Affymetrix’ acquisition of Panomics, Inc., a quantitative biology company where I served for six years as President and Chief Executive Officer.”
PhD, Molecular and Cell Biology, Indiana University Post-doctoral fellowship, National Institutes of Health
If you were explaining Affymetrix to someone who was not familiar with the company, how would you characterize its primary areas of expertise? Affymetrix was founded in 1993 by Dr. Steve Fodor, who pioneered microarrays for whole genome RNA and DNA analysis. We develop, manufacture, and commercialize products and integrated systems for cell, protein, and gene analysis for translational research, molecular diagnostics, and applied sciences such as agrigenomics.
Over the years we have developed deep expertise in underlying technologies such as bioinformatics, probe design, genome-wide assays, and antibody development. These core competencies are central to our world-class products for genome-wide genetic analysis and multiplex and global RNA assays, as well as single-cell protein expression measurements.
Our mission is to enable scientists to rapidly translate their research results into routine applications for molecular diagnostics and applied sciences—to better understand and apply biology for a better world.
What market or markets does Affymetrix primarily serve? What are the major categories of solutions it offers to its customers? For translational research applications, we offer solutions ranging from whole-genome studies in trancriptome profiling, genotyping, copy number variation, and chromosomal aberrations to RNA multiplex assays to single-transcript RNA in situ hybridization (ISH). Our solutions for immunology studies include antibody, reagent for flow cytometry, immunoassays, and IHC. For molecular diagnostics, we offer a first-of-its kind, FDA-cleared high resolution chromosomal microarray test for aiding the diagnosis of postnatal developmental delay and intellectual disabilities. Our CytoScan Dx Assay was cleared by the FDA this past January. In addition, we also support our partners via the Powered by Affymetrix Program in their effort to develop their biomarkers as a clinical test.
How does the eBioscience acquisition fit into the Affymetrix business? The acquisition of eBioscience expands our offerings in clinical research to include tools for single-cell analysis and a broad assortment of protein-based technologies that complement genetic approaches. It also enables us to leverage our expertise in flow cytometry (eBioscience), probe design (Affymetrix GeneChip), and multiplex assay (Panomics) development to launch an innovative solution for RNA-based flow cytometry. Our QuantiGene FlowRNA technology, which enables simultaneous measurement of RNA and protein in single cells, adds a new dimension to flow cytometry analysis.
How is chromosomal microarray analysis (CMA) changing the genetic-based diagnostics market? Traditional cytogenetic technologies such as karyotyping and subtelomeric fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) used for genetic testing have limitations such as lower resolution. Several professional organizations such as the American College of Medical Genetics and others have recommended chromosomal microarray analysis (CMA) as the first-line genetic test to aid in the diagnostic evaluation of developmental delay when patient history and physical examination do not provide an obvious syndrome diagnosis. CMA has greater sensitivity, higher resolution, and greater diagnostic yield. Due to its genome-wide capability, CMA has similarly replaced FISH.
What does the availability of this FDA-cleared CytoScan Dx Assay to aid in the diagnosis of post-natal developmental delay mean for clinicians and the patient or family? For the lab? For clinicians and the patient/family, having a high-resolution view of the whole genome for detection of minute chromosomal aberrations increases the likelihood of identifying an underlying (pathogenic) genetic aberration and therefore making a diagnosis.
For the test laboratory, having the assays (the reagents, the arrays, and the instrument) manufactured in a cGMP/ISO facility can simplify the lab’s QC and validation procedures.
What are some other areas the company is working on to help bring research laboratory discoveries into the clinic? We continue to enable the field of translational medicine with our offerings. One area is our OncoScan FFPE Assay Kit. It enables the study of whole-genome copy number profiling in solid tumors. Studies have shown that copy number changes play a significant role in many cancers, and analysis of these changes is becoming increasingly important for cancer diagnosis and treatment. This kit is being evaluated at a number of leading cancer centers. Another area, in addition to our IHC offering, is our ViewRNA eZ Assays, RNA in situ hybridization assays that enable the detection of clinically important coding and non-coding RNA biomarkers in FFPE samples.
What are some directions that your company may be taking in the near future in any or all of the core areas of expertise? We will continue to support large scale genetic studies such as the UK Biobank project and the Million Veteran Program—the world’s two largest genetic analysis projects for better understanding of the impact of genes, lifestyle, and environment on human health and for the identification of biomarkers with the potential to improve healthcare.
To enable faster translation of bench-top discoveries into the clinic, we will continue to innovate and partner with our customers in meeting their needs. We are also expanding into the fast-growing and developing regions of the world via our distribution network and our direct sales and support offices.