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Q&A: Tim “TJ” Johnson, CEO, High Throughput Genomics
High Throughput Genomics is young company, but one that has made an impact in the area of customized, high-throughput gene expression analysis. Its key technology is qNPA which allows for expression analysis without the need for RNA extraction, cDNA synthesis or RNA labeling or amplification. Last January, Tim "TJ" Johnson—ex of Ventana Medical Systems—took the helm of the company as CEO. TJ recently took time out of his schedule to chat with DDN Chief Editor Chris Anderson.
DDN: Describe HTG's positioning in the gene expression marketplace.
Johnson: HTG's approach is to provide a customized very high-throughput and very precise gene expression product. One of the things we have been working on this year is to broaden our relevant market potential within this area. I spent a lot of my time in the first few months traveling and listening to our customers about HTG and its technology. Overwhelmingly, it was: 'you have great technology, but we would like to see broader applications.'
DDN: In terms of broadening, what areas are you looking at?
Johnson: One is moving up plex. Our current custom arrays fit up to about 30 or 40 genes of interest. We are being told by our customers "we would love to be able to use qNPA, looking at 500 genes or looking at 2,000 genes." Another area of focus for us is being able to get expression data from the vast archive of formulin-fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) samples.
DDN: Why is addressing FFPE samples important?
Johnson: There are upwards of 250 million annotated FFPE samples. This opens up an incredibly important ability, because the clinical histories of those samples are available. Having that annotated history and looking backwards to do retrospective analysis to identify unique gene signatures that can help in breaking down patient populations, and patient cohorts to prepare for clinical trials, is vitally important.
It is an area where we plan to focus a heavy amount of our attention.
DDN: Do you have a product for this market?
Johnson: The great thing is our product works for this and we don't require any new innovation or to develop a new product to do this.
DDN: How is HTG positioned to serve researchers in the personalized medicine realm?
Johnson: It is an important area for us. We are hearing from our customers the desire to have technology continuity from discovery, to validation, to the clinic and one of the great things about qNPA and the HTG technology is that we can work with customers on validating a specific gene signature for them and then take that exact same technology as a diagnostic tool into the clinic.
DDN: What is the importance of diagnostics for HTG going forward?
Johnson: I think diagnostics will be a very important growth aspect for the company in the future. We expect to be a balanced research and diagnostic company. I think it is vitally important that we are working closely and collaboratively with researchers in the marketplace so we can be at the forefront of new discoveries—the identification of biomarkers; identification and validation of gene signatures and then work with those researchers to find ways to get those signatures into the hands of oncologists and then working for the improvement and the betterment of patients. We believe we have unique value to provide in these areas. DDN