Illumina Names Agilent Technologies exec Jacob Thaysen As CEO

The board of DNA sequencing company Illumina Inc. on Tuesday named a 10-year veteran at life sciences-tools firm Agilent Technologies (A.N.) exec Jacob Thaysen as the U.S. genetic testing company’s CEO, months after its former head stepped down following a proxy fight with billionaire Carl Icahn. Jacob Thaysen, currently the group president of Agilent’s Diagnostics & Genomics Group, will take over as CEO on Sept. 25 and join the board.

The news comes a day after the San Diego-based DNA sequencing company’s chief legal officer, Charles Dadswell, was appointed acting CEO while the firm searches for its next leader. The move came after former CEO Francis deSouza resigned from the gene-sequencing pioneer in June following a proxy battle with Icahn over the company’s troubled $7.1 billion acquisition of cancer test maker Grail.

Illumina repurchased Grail in 2021 despite opposition from the U.S. and European antitrust regulators. This decision prompted Icahn to pursue a proxy fight to replace the entire Illumina board, which he eventually won in May. He had argued that the acquisition was an ill-advised strategy that could cost the company billions in lost market share. In contrast, the company argued that it was legally obligated to hold on to Grail until it received a divestiture order from the E.U. and that the Grail early cancer detection Galleri test could revolutionize the field.

In a statement on Tuesday, the company said it has no plans to spin off its Grail division and expects to resolve both the European and Federal Trade Commission appeals in late 2023 or early 2024. It added that winning the appeals would allow it to expand the availability, affordability, and profitability of the Galleri test, which is expected to transform the multibillion-dollar global cancer screening market.

The new CEO will have to tackle several challenges at Illumina, the world’s leading maker of genome sequencers. It has struggled to keep pace with rivals in its core cancer research business and is facing slowing demand for its higher-priced genome sequencers. The company faces regulatory hurdles in the United States over its Grail purchase.

Icahn has already pushed for changes at Illumina, including hiring Icahn Enterprises L.P. director Nelson Peltz to the company’s nine-member board. According to filings, the octogenarian investor has a 1.4% stake in the DNA sequencing firm. However, the company opposes Icahn’s nominees and has nominated its candidates. Icahn has also called on the company to release a report from Hindenburg Research that claims the investment firm’s value is inflated. Hindenburg’s report has sent the octogenarian’s shares down 50% in weeks, wiping out $15 billion of his net worth. The octogenarian has denied the allegations in the report, calling it self-serving.

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