NanoString mourns the sudden death of its CMO

NanoString Technologies' chief medical officer died unexpectedly, the Seattle maker of molecular diagnostic products and research tools disclosed recently.

Dr. J. Wayne Cowens was 67 years old and a veteran life sciences executive and researcher. He had been CMO at NanoString only since February 2011 and helped shepherd its Prosigna breast cancer in vitro assay to FDA clearance in late 2013. Earlier this year, the company raised $55 million in a follow-on offering to help support further commercialization of Prosigna, which uses the PAM50 gene signature to assess breast cancer tumor risk.

In a statement, NanoString President and CEO Brad Gray lauded Cowens and his achievements at the company.

"We are shocked and deeply saddened by the sudden loss of our friend and colleague. Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time," Gray said. He added that Cowens "was instrumental in building our diagnostic development capabilities, and his legacy includes [Prosigna], a substantial body of peer-reviewed literature, and a strong team with deep experience in medical affairs, regulatory and clinical development."

NanoString has had a busy year. In June, the company signed a deal to produce a companion test for Celgene's ($CELG) blockbuster cancer drug Revlimid, an agreement that will make NanoString up to $45 million if it can reach various developmental and regulatory milestones.

For a midsized company pushing to transform into a viable commercial operation, the loss of a key executive like Cowens can hurt. But NanoString, in its announcement of Cowens' death, said that it would move ahead with its ongoing strategy, business as usual.

"NanoString has established a team comprised of leaders ... in the areas of medical affairs, regulatory and product development to provide continuous oversight during [its] search for a new chief medical officer," the company said in its announcement.

NanoString added that it "does not believe Dr. Cowens' death will have any material impact on timing and execution of its ongoing product development initiatives, regulatory submissions, or efforts to gain reimbursement and treatment guideline inclusion for the Prosigna Breast Cancer Assay."

- here's the release

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