Transnetyx & Harmonyx
Once upon a time, Bob Bean was an ordained minister and a professional church musician — but he gradually discovered his real gift. “What I could do was stand in front of them all — a violinist, a cellist, an oboeist, a soprano, a bass — and motivate them to get excited together, and to get quiet together, to work toward a common goal.”
After a divorce in the early 1990s, this self-described “conductor” found himself seeking a new career. Today, as CEO of Transnetyx, he conducts the first fully automated genetic testing lab using genetically modified mice, and directs “a lot of smart people in every department” — from engineering, genetics and pharmacy, to sales, finance, and IT. He also heads Harmonyx, which offers genetic testing on human patients.
The Atlanta native who moved to Memphis in 1995 was recruited to sell pharmaceuticals for the old Upjohn company. “One of my former choir members was a manager there, and he was crazy enough to hire me,” says Bean with a laugh. Along the way he met Tim Hodge, who became his business partner, and in 2000 they created Transnetyx.
“The technology was very new then,” says Bean. “The ability to target a genetic mutation was discovered in 1995.” Now the tail tips of mice that have been bred with various mutations are FedExed to Transnetyx’s lab each day from 600 customer labs around the world. But only some mice actually inherit the gene. Those that do are used in drug therapy testing. Last year the company performed 1.1 million biopsies on mice tails. The service, which is guaranteed in 24 or 72 hours, eliminates customers’ need for and costs of extracting and testing DNA themselves.
Raising money for the company was slow-going. “I’ve been kicked out of the best offices in town,” laughs Bean. Other obstacles reared their heads. The company’s web vendor went bankrupt right before the company launched. Later, a customer who wanted them to perform human testing reneged on the deal. “We did everything they wanted us to do,” says Bean, “but they left us at the altar!”
Bean and company persevered and, by 2007, sales were rolling. In 2010 they started human genetic testing with the founding of Harmonyx, focusing on the cholesterol drug Plavix. Because the drug may not work on patients with certain genetic markers, insurance companies, including Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield, use Harmonyx to provide patient testing for doctors enrolled in their coverage.
Bean’s goal is to make genetic testing more accessible and affordable: “What we do dramatically improves the speed and quality of research.”
The former pastor believes building this company is his calling. He tells of a discovery, published in Science, that a mouse bred with pancreatic cancer did not respond to chemo because the drug did not penetrate the tumor. “All these years doctors have blasted chemo at pancreatic cancer for nothing,” says Bean, whose mother died at age 51 of the disease. Now a major drug company is trying to develop therapy to penetrate pancreatic tumors. “If I can play a tiny role in the process of helping cure that disease, that’s a great way to spend my life.”
Bean — who remarried, has a 10 year-old son, and is involved with the Germantown Baseball League — says his most important role at work is “encouraging good employees to live well-rounded lives. Happy people make great employees. That in turn creates loyal customers and happy shareholders. That way I create value and contribute to others.”
Name: Bob Bean
Companies: Transnetyx and Harmonyx
Address: 8110 Cordova Road, Cordova
Services Provided: Genetics testing on samples from mice (Transnetyx) and humans (Harmonyx)
How Long With Company: Since the beginning
Number of Employees: 44
What makes a good CEO: “The ability to have perspective — of the employee, the customer, and the shareholder.”