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Gen-Probe Expects Panther to Drive Growth for Several Years

By Edward Winnick

SAN FRANCISCO (GenomeWeb News) - Gen-Probe officials told investors Monday at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference that although the firm expects product sales growth in the high-single digits for 2011, sales are expected to be in the double digits for several years afterward as the firm expands the menu for its new Panther molecular diagnostics system.

Panther was launched just last month in Europe. It targets low- to mid-volume labs, is fully automated, has a smaller footprint and lower price than the firm's Tigris system, and offers random-access testing of qualitative and quantitative assays. The instrument enables molecular diagnostic testing capabilities not currently available on the Tigris, according to the company.

Gen-Probe President and CEO Carl Hull said that because European labs tend to be smaller than those in the US, the firm believes that is the "sweet spot" for the new system.

Though the Panther system is not expected to be launched in the US for at least another year, Gen-Probe believes the system will be its key sales growth driver as it expands the menu offered on the instrument. The initial offering is for the firm's sexually transmitted disease tests for chlamydia and gonorrhea, but Gen-Probe plans to expand that potentially to its human papillomavirus assay and its Progensa PCA3 assay to help physicians identify men at risk of increased risk of prostate cancer.

One growth driver the firm is eyeing is the blood screening market, from which Gen-Probe currently derives 35 percent of its revenues. In particular, the company sees great upside for Panther in emerging markets that require a low-cost and smaller instrument. Gen-Probe anticipates launching Panther for blood screening applications in 2012, said Hull.

Though the consumables pull-through for Panther will not be as great as with the Tigris system, which Hull said brings in more than $500,000 a year per instrument, the consumables-associated revenue is expected to rise as the menu expands.

In addition to the advances made with Panther, company officials noted that the firm met its 2010 goal of submitting five products for US Food and Drug Administration clearance and launching four products in Europe.

Among the filings with FDA was Gen-Probe's Aptima HPV assay. Gen-Probe filed with FDA in November for the test, which detects 14 high-risk HPV types that are associated with cervical cancer. It also can detect messenger RNA from two viral oncogenes, E6 and E7, which are more prevalent in the severe cervical lesions likely to progress to cervical cancer. Hull said that this provides a key difference between Gen-Probe's test and the market-leading molecular diagnostic HPV assay offered by Qiagen.

Like the other major competitors in the roughly $375 million HPV testing market, including Qiagen and Hologic, Gen-Probe believes the global market is highly underpenetrated.

Looking longer-term, Hull cited Gen-Probe's collaboration with Pacific Biosciences, which was announced in mid-2010. The collaboration included a $50 million investment by Gen-Probe into the single-molecule sequencing startup.

Under that deal, the firms are collaborating on an exclusive basis for 30 months with an aim toward developing sequencing-based molecular diagnostic tests. Hull said Monday that Gen-Probe is in the early stages of those efforts, and noted that the firm is working on the sample prep and reagent side of the collaboration right now.

Hull said Gen-Probe believes that within five to 10 years sequencing technologies will play a significant role in the clinical diagnostics field. However, he also said that such efforts are in the early stages and a number of considerations, such as how FDA will regulate such tests, will need to be worked out.

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