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20 February, 2018 - 09:21 By Tony Quested

Horizon bombshell as CEO Disley quits

Dr Darrin Disley, one of the most successful and inspirational CEOs in Cambridge biotech history, has quit the business after 11 years to pursue his many other entrepreneurial activities – sparking an immediate search for a long-term successor.

Dr Disley has been credited with transforming Horizon from a struggling entity to a global world leader in gene editing and gene modulation.

While acting CEO Richard Vellacott and chairman Dr Ian Gilham heaped praise on Dr Disley’s achievement in building a world-class company and management team, his departure leaves a huge hole for the business.

Only last week Dr Disley bought £350k worth of shares in Horizon – a huge show of faith in the company, board and management team that he has put in place.

He certainly leaves Horizon on a high: 2017 was a spectacular year with the company increasing in value from £148 million to a peak of £440 million when the share price hit £2.97. Even now it’s £300m (£2 a share) and the business is in rude health and on course to deliver c70 per cent growth this year following a 51 per cent uptick last year. 

Dr Disley is mentoring, helping to direct and investing in a host of synergistic life science enterprises from university startups to more established players with good prospects for international scale-up.

He was honoured by The Queen in 2016, receiving the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion for individuals who have played an outstanding role in promoting enterprise skills and attitudes in others. 

The award was only been given to a small, select group of recipients who fostered an entrepreneurial spirit in a range of diverse areas including business, education, training or youth work at either a national or local level.

Horizon confirmed today that board chairman Ian Gilham would assume the role of executive chairman and chief financial officer and deputy CEO Richard Vellacott would become CEO – both appointments on an interim basis. The search for a new CEIO is already underway.

Dr Gilham said: “I would like to express my sincere appreciation for Darrin’s achievements as CEO since he joined in 2007 when Horizon was a start-up company through to now being a global leader in gene editing and gene modulation.

“During his tenure, he has built a world-class management team, set a highly successful commercial and business strategy, led the company through several financing rounds, including the successful IPO in 2014, and driven multiple acquisitions including the company’s recent transformational deal with Dharmacon.

“We support Darrin’s decision to step down at this time. We look forward, in due course, to announcing the appointment of a new CEO who will lead the Company through the next phase of its growth and development.”

Richard Vellacott added: “Horizon has never been in a stronger position operationally and I would like to thank Darrin for everything he has contributed to Horizon over the past many years.

“He has been truly inspirational in the evolution of our strategy and the rapid growth of the business, which is now a global leader in gene editing and gene modulation.”

Dr Disley said: “I am proud to have led the team through this successful period and feel now is the right time, after 11 years as CEO, to hand over the reins to pursue my other business interests. 

“I know the group and the current leadership team is the strongest it has ever been. I wish everyone well and look forward to watching Horizon’s future successes.”

• Horizon’s UK share price opened 8p (four per cent) lower at 192p immediately following the announcement before starting to rally.

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