For a post-COVID world, Thermo Fisher names first chief medical officer to oversee clinical efforts

coronavirus test tubes
Thermo Fisher also announced plans to launch a center of excellence in clinical metabolomics research in collaboration with UC Davis. (Getty/RossHelen)

Following a record year, driven in large part by diagnostics for the COVID-19 pandemic, Thermo Fisher Scientific has named its first chief medical officer to keep that momentum going among its biopharma and healthcare customers with an eye on the clinic.

After serving as the company’s chief scientific officer for the past five years, Alan Sachs will now take on the CMO role. Meanwhile, his spot will be filled by Karen Nelson, formerly the president of the J. Craig Venter Institute. Both will be elevated to the leadership team in August.

Sachs will help oversee Thermo Fisher’s medical affairs program and efforts to drive up the adoption of new technologies in clinical care and diagnostics. Previously, he spent 10 years at Merck Research Laboratories, including as VP of exploratory and translational sciences, and helped direct its global RNA-based therapeutics research.

Nelson, meanwhile, helped pioneer human microbiology and metagenomics research and lead those efforts at JCVI as a director. She has also served as editor-in-chief of the journal Microbial Ecology and has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

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For 2020, Thermo Fisher collected $32.2 billion in revenue, with one-third coming from diagnostics and healthcare and nearly 40% from its pharma and biotech customers. This includes widely used PCR-based testing hardware, kits and supplies for COVID-19 screening, as well as various products for the development and production of vaccines and therapies.

During one of the initial waves of the pandemic, spanning July to September 2020, Thermo Fisher brought in $2 billion from coronavirus-related products alone, including new high-throughput molecular tests and viral transport media for safeguarding samples during shipment. Revenue from lab products and services added another $490 million.

More recently, last month saw Thermo Fisher launch an updated version of its TaqPath PCR testing kit for COVID-19, which has a CE mark for detecting current and emerging variants of the infection from saliva samples. The company also began rolling out a new collection kit designed to streamline the use of saliva in large-scale coronavirus research and surveillance programs.

RELATED: Thermo Fisher deploys sensors for detecting airborne COVID-19

And on the same day as Sachs' and Nelson’s appointments, Thermo Fisher announced plans to launch a center of excellence in clinical metabolomics research in collaboration with UC Davis, to support the development of large-scale, precision medicine tools for finding new diagnostic biomarkers and drug targets.

"The progress we've made in the areas of vaccines and therapy development during the pandemic would have been impossible without ongoing commitments to invest in and share new scientific techniques, and this underscores the importance of our collaboration with UC Davis," Thermo Fisher’s chief operating officer, Mark Stevenson, said in a statement.

The company will supply its Orbitrap mass spectrometers, while UC Davis aims to provide advanced training courses for early career scientists and independent investigators.