Illumina nets new CEO with Agilent life sciences leader

Illumina has landed on a new leader after a monthslong proxy battle upended the DNA sequencing giant’s leadership earlier this year.

Jacob Thaysen, Ph.D., will make the jump after a decade at Agilent Technologies, where he served as president of its life sciences and applied markets group and helped lead its portfolios of diagnostics, analytical instruments, informatics services and cell analysis offerings. Thaysen is set to take the top job at Illumina starting Sept. 25.

“I'm planning to hit the ground running and looking forward to working with the incredibly talented teams at Illumina,” Thaysen said in the company’s announcement.

Thaysen may have a marathon ahead of him: Illumina has been mired in legal battles on both sides of the Atlantic, with ongoing appeals against U.S and European antitrust regulators who sought to block the company’s multibillion-dollar acquisition of cancer blood test developer Grail. 

At the same time, the company recently shrank its financial projections for the remainder of the year. After forecasting annual growth between 7% and 10% following this year’s first quarter, the company said last month that it now expects revenues from DNA sequencers and supplies to remain “approximately flat” despite the recent launch and growing placements of its latest NovaSeq X hardware, which touts the ability to read full human genomes at a cost of about $200.

Jacob Thaysen
Jacob Thaysen, Ph.D. (Illumina)

This past June also saw Illumina begin a slate of layoffs as part of a plan to shave off at least $100 million from its 2023 expenses.

The company’s August 2021 decision to move forward with its deal for Grail without first receiving government approvals has also brought down record fines from the EU—totaling nearly a half-billion dollars—and ultimately set the stage for activist investor Carl Icahn to lead a revolt against the company, further sparked by declines in Illumina’s stock value.

After a public war of words this past spring, Illumina shareholders voted to replace the company’s board chair, John Thompson, with Icahn-endorsed nominee Andrew Teno. Illumina’s previous CEO, longtime chief Francis deSouza, stepped down shortly thereafter in June.

Most recently, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) launched its own probe into Illumina’s quest for Grail—which the company has held at arm's length, with separate management, for the past two years. The SEC has requested documents “related to the conduct and compensation” of leaders at both companies, according to Illumina.

Going forward, Illumina will be banking on Thaysen’s history in genomics and tech. 

He previously led Agilent life sciences franchises that brought in a total of $4 billion in 2022 revenue, while counting more than 50,000 customers, according to Illumina. Before that, Thaysen served as president of Agilent’s diagnostics and genomics group from 2014 to 2018, during his 10-year tenure with the company.

“Jacob's unique combination of deep technological and commercial experience will be a great addition to Illumina,” said Stephen MacMillan, CEO of Hologic and chair of Illumina’s board. “He brings a fresh perspective, a demonstrated track record driving profitable growth and a strong commitment to create value for all of Illumina's stakeholders.”

Charles Dadswell, who has served as Illumina’s interim CEO since deSouza's departure, will resume his position as general counsel once Thaysen takes the helm.