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Abbott Has No Intentions to Sell Dx Businesses, Officials Say

WASHINGTON, DC (GenomeWeb News) - A year after an $8.1 billion agreement to sell two of its diagnostic divisions to General Electric fell apart, Abbott Laboratories has no intentions of getting rid of those divisions or any other parts of its diagnostics business, company officials said Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry.
Speaking at a press conference held here at the National Press Club, Abbott Executive Vice President of Diagnostics Edward Michael said that the firm had been approached by possible suitors since the collapse of the GE deal. But over the past year, and the past two quarters in particular, the diagnostics business has demonstrated “great improvement” in sales and profitability, he said.
In addition, Michael said that in the wake of the collapsed deal Abbott evaluated the business and decided that not only could it perform better but it also could help the firm’s pharmaceuticals and nutritional business grow. Similar to a strategy being employed by its rival Roche, Abbott sees companion diagnostics being a revenue driver for its other businesses – and it also can aid in its R&D efforts.
Abbott’s diagnostics business brought in revenues of around $3.1 billion in 2007, with around $250 million coming from the molecular diagnostics business, which was not part of the GE pact. In addition, Abbott’s point-of-care Dx business, which was part of the deal, generated revenues of roughly $200 million. Michael said that both of these parts of the diagnostics business had revenue growth of more than 20 percent in the second quarter of 2008.
The firm, which sells a PCR-based HIV assay, is working on a wide variety of infectious disease molecular diagnostic assays, particularly for sexually transmitted diseases, that it hopes to eventually sell in the US. It hopes to seek European clearance for a human papillomavirus assay later this year, but will hold off on seeking US approval until Qiagen’s patents covering the technology expire in the US.
Another expansion of Abbott’s molecular diagnostics business could come through its possible acquisition of Ibis Biosciences, a division of Isis Pharmaceuticals in which Abbott holds a nearly 20 percent stake.
An Abbott official told GenomeWeb Daily News after the press conference that the firm is likely to exercise its option to acquire Ibis for an additional $175 million to $190 million at the end of this year. Ibis’ T5000 Biosensor System combines PCR with mass spectrometry to identify and characterize infectious agents. It is not ready for the clinical market yet, said Michael during his presentation, but Abbott could help in further developing the system and seeking regulatory clearance for clinical diagnostic uses.
John Robinson, senior director of R&D for Abbott Molecular, also noted that the company is keeping its eye on a variety of research tools, including next-generation DNA sequencers, as potential content generators for its molecular diagnostics business. The firm also has an ongoing molecular diagnostics collaboration with Celera, but Robinson said Abbott’s relationship with that firm could change now that Celera has split with former sister company Applied Biosystems. 
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