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PerkinElmer Bets Euroscreen Buy Will Refine GPCR Offering, Enhance Cell-Based Assay Play

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PerkinElmer hopes to continue bolstering its portfolio of cell-based drug-discovery tools by acquiring Euroscreen Products, a subsidiary of Belgian drug-discovery operation Euroscreen, for an undisclosed cash sum.
 
The acquisition stands to provide PerkinElmer a sturdier foothold in the G-protein coupled receptor assay-screening market, and plays into the company’s well-publicized strategy to better compete in the overall cell-based assay arena.
 
Euroscreen, of Gosselies, Belgium, specializes in GPCR assays based on the aequorin calcium-sensitive luminescent photoprotein. It exclusively licensed the core technology from the University of Georgia Research Foundation, and markets its assays under the name AequoScreen. Euroscreen sells cell lines and membranes expressing GPCRs and aequorin, and provides assay protocols for these technologies.
 
Under the terms of the agreement, Euroscreen would transfer to PerkinElmer its portfolio of GPCR screening tools and its exclusive global license to the aequorin technology.
 
Although Euroscreen focuses primarily on internal drug discovery and contract drug-discovery services, it supplements its revenues by licensing the aequorin technology to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies for their internal use. Euroscreen has licensed the technology to more than 30 such companies to date, among them Merck, Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Bayer, Cephalon, UCB, and Solvay. PerkinElmer officials this week told CBA News that it will inherit these deals.
 
Euroscreen also has a number of formal and informal partnerships with other instrumentation vendors. These include CyBio, Hamamatsu, Molecular Devices, and Applied Biosystems, all of whom market instruments on which the AequoScreen technology has been validated.
 
Last year, Alfred Gray, Euroscreen’s director of business development, told CBA News that partnering with instrumentation vendors is essential to selling its assay technology, and that its research facility doubles as a customer demo site for CyBio’s CyBi-Lumax and Hamamatsu’s FDSS instruments.
 
Since that time, Euroscreen has added PerkinElmer’s LumiLux to the mix, an arrangement that has spawned a number of sales that bundled AequoScreen and LumiLux together, Gray said this week.
 
“We have one of the instruments at our site, and it’s clearly an excellent instrument,” Gray said of the LumiLux. “That … is one area where a number of customers have worked where Euroscreen would provide the GPCR reagents and the aequorin license [to customers], and PerkinElmer would provide their LumiLux instrument.”
 
Euroscreen will continue with what Gray called a “dual-platform approach to biotech survival,” which consists of conducting internal drug-discovery and offering contract drug-screening services, both based primarily on GPCR targets.
 
For PerkinElmer, the deal, expected to close by the end of the first quarter of 2007, represents a deeper penetration into the GPCR screening market. GPCRs are one of the most investigated and exploited drug target families. PerkinElmer believes that GPCR targets comprise between 30 and 40 percent of drug screening programs. Some industry reports have estimated that figure may be more than 40 percent, and that GPCRs are targets for more than 50 percent of all currently marketed pharmaceuticals.
 
“There are two reasons for this,” Richard Eglen, vice president and general manager of discovery and research reagents for PerkinElmer’s Life and Analytical Sciences unit, told CBA News this week. “One is that GPCRs are a very druggable class of targets. But related to that, there are new ideas about how GPCRs function that appear to be opening up new ways to designing new therapeutics.”
 
Accordingly, competition is fierce in the GPCR assay market, and includes reagents from DiscoverX (distributed by GE Healthcare), Invitrogen, and Cisbio; instrumentation from PerkinElmer, Molecular Devices, CyBio, Hamamatsu, as well as many other high-content imaging vendors; and services from companies such as Millipore, Caliper’s Novascreen division, Galapagos and, of course, Euroscreen.
 
With such competition as a backdrop, PerkinElmer and Euroscreen tout AequoScreen as a superior reagent for GPCR screening by claiming the luminescent aequorin offers a cost and sensitivity improvement over fluorescent calcium indicators such as Fluo-3 and Fluo-4, which are commonly used in Molecular Devices’ market-leading FLIPR GPCR screening instrument platform.
 
PerkinElmer also offers several reagents for GPCR screening, according to Eglen, so the acquisition of Euroscreen’s products actually brings a competing tool under PerkinElmer’s umbrella.
 
“We think we now offer a pretty complete solution, because we can go all the way from classical ligand binding for GPCRs through to endpoint assays … with the LANCE Ultra [homogenous time-resolved fluorescence] assays,” Eglen said. “We also have a system where we can measure the phosphorylation of Erk using AlphaScreen SureFire, and now we can measure calcium as well.
 
Specifically, Eglen said, “What we have now is the ability to measure calcium changes as mobilized by GPCRs, particularly on a luminescent basis,” Eglen said. “We have seen an increase in the interest in looking at luminescence-based assays in the cellular context. Also we have the LumiLux instrument platform now, and to be able to bring the luminescent cell lines to [this] platform really plays into a nice space in the market for GPCR screening.”
 
Cell-Based Ascent
 
Acquiring Euroscreen would be the latest in a string of acquisitions, partnerships, and internal product development aimed to increase PerkinElmer’s overall cell-based drug-discovery proficiency – a strategy that various company officials have been proclaiming over the past year and a half.
 
Most recently, PerkinElmer announced its intention to acquire Evotec Technologies, the tools and tech division of German drug-discovery firm Evotec (see CBA News, 12/1/2006). That purchase, which is also expected to close by the end of this year or early next year, made PerkinElmer an immediate competitor in a burgeoning high-content image-based screening space in which rivals GE Healthcare, Thermo Fisher, Molecular Devices, and BD Biosciences are already firmly entrenched.
 

“PerkinElmer is doing a good job of recognizing that researchers’ work is going to move past genetic analysis and even past protein analysis into cellular analysis … [and] is realizing that there is a growth opportunity in helping researchers to do their cellular research efficiently.”

“The way to view these two acquisitions is that they are part of a very coherent strategy to move into the cell biology space, and to develop more technologies for drug discovery and research,” Eglen said.
 
Three months earlier, at the Society for Biomolecular Sciences conference in Seattle, PerkinElmer introduced several new products for high-throughput cell-based drug screening, including the Janus Cellular Workstation, a fully automated liquid-handling platform designed for cell-based assays; and the aforementioned LANCE and AlphaScreen SureFire assays. Around the same time, the company also lured Eglen away from GPCR screening competitor DiscoverX.
 
John Sullivan, a research analyst with Leerink Swann who has covered PerkinElmer for several years, this week told CBA News that all of these initiatives could result in a more dependable revenue stream for the company.
 
I do think that PerkinElmer is looking at the cell-based analysis market and seeing a much more fragmented market than genetic analysis or even protein analysis, so I think that they are viewing the cell-based analysis market as one in which they can compete well,” Sullivan said.
 
“The cell-based analysis world breaks into instrumentation companies … and then into enabling biology franchises. I think PerkinElmer is seeking to compete to a greater extent on the enabling biology side, and that makes a lot of sense to me because that’s a potentially high-margin business where consumable revenue streams can be developed.”
 
And, according to Sullivan, PerkinElmer’s increased cell-based assay capabilities may tie in nicely with the company’s expertise in clinical diagnostics.
 
“PerkinElmer is doing a good job of recognizing that researchers’ work is going to move past genetic analysis and even past protein analysis into cellular analysis,” Sullivan said. “[It] is realizing that there is a growth opportunity in helping researchers to do their cellular research efficiently.
 
“Further, management realizes that being good at cell-based assays has application in both the research and clinical diagnostics setting,” he added. “Cell-based tests are likely to be adopted to a greater extent in clinical diagnosis.”

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