San Diego Business Journal


CEO: Position is vacant.

Executive chairman of the board: David F. Hale.

Financial information: Would not disclose.

No. of local employees: 60.

Investors: Privately funded by the Reiss family and other undisclosed investors.

Headquarters: San Diego, near the Sorrento Mesa area.

Year founded: 1997.

Company description: A diagnostic and laboratory services company focused on the capture, detection, enumeration and analysis of circulating tumor cells in the blood stream.

David F. Hale, considered by many to be a founding father of San Diego’s mighty biotechnology cluster, has taken the helm at Biocept, a cancer-focused diagnostic and laboratory services company that’s getting ready to launch its first product in July.

Hale, 62, joins Biocept as executive chairman of the board, the firm announced April 5, but will be essentially serving as the head of the company because it doesn’t have a chief executive officer. Stephen Coutts left at the end of 2010 when Biocept shifted to commercializing its non-invasive cancer cell detection tests.

“David has extensive experience in both getting companies off the ground and moving companies into commercialization,” said Joseph Panetta, CEO of Biocom, a regional life sciences trade association based in San Diego. Hale helped create Biocom and still serves on its board. “Commercializing is a much different undertaking than R&D. It takes a solid base of talent to move in that direction.”

But talent is just one piece of the puzzle, notes Duane Roth, CEO of Connect, a San Diego nonprofit that helps biotech firms commercialize products; Hale also is a founder of that organization. “There’s probably no one in San Diego with a bigger Rolodex than David has,” Roth said. “He knows all the right people.”

Seeking More Financing

Those connections will be key as Biocept looks to expand into new sources of financing. The company has held the interesting distinction of operating without any venture capital. It is privately funded, primarily by the family of company founder Robert Reiss, a biomedical engineer who died in 2005. Reiss’ wife, Claire Reiss, continues to serve on Biocept’s board as chairwoman emeritus.

Hale said that he’ll be working with the board to “set the strategic direction of the company and ensure that we have the senior-level executives in place” to achieve its goals. That likely will include hiring a chief executive, he adds.

“Hopefully, if we do those things well, we will create some significant value for our shareholders,” Hale said. “It takes a lot of money to build a successful biotechnology company. One of our objectives is to bring in additional financing to the company and to finance the launch of the first product.”

The product he’s referring to is OncoCEE-BR, which uses a blood sample to detect the presence of breast-cancer tumor cells. It’s expected to hit the market in the third quarter, and will be used mainly to track the progress of cancer treatments without having to conduct painful tissue biopsies. Hale says that Biocept intends to apply that technology to tests that detect circulating tumor cells from lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and prostate cancer, among others. Those could be available as early as September, says Hale, declining to provide revenue projections.

Caring for Cancer Patients“This is a very important area of medicine today,” said Hale, who has been chairman and CEO of Hale BioPharma Ventures LLC since 2006. “We believe that we can help physicians by being the best in the world at capturing these tumor cells.”

Through a molecular analysis of the cells, it may be possible to create individualized therapy, he says. “I’m excited about the potential of this technology to improve the treatment of patients with cancer.”

For Hale, cancer detection has always been an area of professional interest, starting in the 1980s. He was integral in creating the PSA test for prostate cancer, launched in 1986 while serving as president of Hybritech Inc. The test became one of the world’s most widely used diagnostic tools for cancer, Hale says.

In joining Biocept, Hale also joins an old friend, Ivor Royston, a co-founder of Hybritech. The company was eventually acquired by Eli Lilly and Co. The duo also worked together at the oncology company CancerVax Corp., which merged with Micromet Inc. in 2006. Royston became a Biocept director at the end of 2010 and had a role in bringing Hale on board as executive chairman.

“When I talked to recruiting firms, they told me, ‘You’re not going to get David,’ ” Royston laughed. “But I asked David to go ahead and take a look at this company. We both share excitement for the technology. It can revolutionize how we treat cancer and how we diagnose cancer recurrence.”

Kelly Quigley is a freelance writer for the San Diego Business Journal.