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Luminex CEO Discusses M&A Strategy, Divestiture as Firm Focuses on Existing MDx Developments

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This article was originally posted on Sept. 12.

Luminex has no plans to acquire any new businesses or companies at this time, its CEO Patrick Balthrop said at an investment conference last week.

Instead, the Austin, Texas-based company will focus its resources on maintaining and growing its existing molecular diagnostics efforts, while shedding programs that don't fit well with the company, such as its newborn screening business, he said.

Balthrop provided new details on Luminex's strategy and operations during a talk at the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Conference, which was webcast from New York last week.

In response to a question about future acquisitions, Balthrop said that Luminex has completed a few transactions in recent years that have been "very targeted and focused on the molecular diagnostic segment," such as its purchases of GenturaDx, Eragen Biosciences, and BSD Robotics.

Luminex has not disclosed the cost of the BSD transaction, but it spent $50 million to acquire GenturaDx and $34 million to buy Eragen.

The GenturaDx and Eragen acquisitions have provided Luminex with an RT-PCR system and a menu of PCR-based molecular tests. Luminex refers to its internal effort to bring the GenturaDx technology to market with Eragen's menu as Project Aries, and has forecast a 2014 launch for the new platform's debut.

The acquisition of BSD, based in Brisbane, Australia, supplied Luminex with dried bio-sample instrumentation, now sold as the BSD Semi-Automated Punch System. Luminex had positioned the system as a front-end to its bead array-based NeoPlex4 newborn screening panel. Last month, though, it announced that it was looking to sell its newborn screening business, including the BSD system and Neoplex4 assay, to an interested partner (BAN 8/13/2013).

Though Luminex has decided to abandon its newborn screening business, with the GenturaDx and Eragen technologies and IP under its umbrella, it does not need to acquire any more companies to execute its molecular diagnostics strategy, according to Balthrop.

"Never say never, but the [acquisitions] we have done in the past have been very specific, very targeted and very consistent with being able to establish what we consider to be a very enviable or maybe even unmatched position in the molecular diagnostics market," he said.

"We don’t anticipate doing any transactions in the future based on what we know today."

Newborn screening

Luminex has provided a number of reasons for its decision to sell off its newborn screening business. At the time of the restructuring, which included a 5 percent reduction in headcount and the closure of its Brisbane office, was announced, Balthrop said that a "variable, unpredictable, and burdensome" process of obtaining US Food and Drug Administration clearance for NeoPlex4 had in part influenced the company's decision.

At Morgan Stanley, Balthrop reiterated that Luminex is not the right company to take the newborn screening business forward and said that it would be a better fit for a firm with an existing stake in the public health market and, especially, within newborn screening laboratories.

"The newborn screening business, market segment, and the product that we have there are all attractive, and we think the product will ultimately be successful," said Balthrop. He added that the company's decision did not stem from "disappointment with or anything negative about newborn screening," but rather the firm's more "significant enthusiasm" for the opportunities it wished to address with its bead array and PCR-based molecular diagnostics programs.

Balthrop said that the company has been in negotiations with potential buyers for the newborn screening business, but has not reached a deal.

Dx update

During his talk, Balthrop also discussed Luminex's molecular diagnostics business, commenting on the market outlook for its Gastrointestinal Pathogen and Cystic Fibrosis Panels, both of which rely on its xMAP bead array technology.

The US Food and Drug Administration cleared the GPP, a multiplex assay that can detect up to 15 pathogens in a single sample, for use on Luminex's LX 200 System in January and for use on its MagPix System in April (BAN 4/16/2013).

Balthrop said that commercializing the GPP has meant converting customers from traditional methods, such as culture, to a multiplex molecular assay, making it a "scientifically challenging" sale.

To better accomplish that, Luminex decided to move to a direct sales model in January (BAN 1/15/2013).

"We felt like the best way to achieve market penetration would be by controlling the channel with our own direct sales force," said Balthrop, adding that the firm didn't announce the change until December "out of respect for the distribution agreements we had in place" and to make the transition smooth for its customers.

Balthrop said that most customers adopting the GPP are in an "acute care setting dealing with high-risk patients for whom gastroenteritis or diarrhea-like symptoms can literally be a life-threatening condition." These first adopters are customers who "understand the power of multiplexing and molecular technology," including existing customers of the firm's Respiratory Virus Panel who are familiar with the xMAP technology.

Balthrop said he would not forecast that amount of revenue that Luminex expects the GPP will generate this year, but said that the company is anticipating "double-digit growth," and that the GPP should be a "key contributor" to that.

Another test that Balthrop discussed is Luminex's xTAG Cystic Fibrosis assay, which has been available for clinical use for years. He said that the CF assay continues to be "extremely important" to the company. He said that about 90 percent of global CF testing is performed within the US, and 85 percent of that is performed by two of Luminex's customers: Quest Diagnostics and Laboratory Corporation of America.

LabCorp, in particular, is Luminex's "largest customer overall," and Balthrop portrayed LabCorp's use of Luminex's assay as a "key differentiating product" for the clinical testing services company.

Still, he noted that LabCorp's CF business is "undergoing a transition," as LabCorp integrates Genzyme Genetics' cystic fibrosis testing laboratory into its offering. LabCorp paid $925 million to acquire Genzyme Genetics, a business unit of Genzyme, at the end of 2010. Balthrop said that LabCorp is now "making some decisions … about which testing is done where."

He added that the "good news" for Luminex, is that its relationship with LabCorp "remains very strong" and that its CF testing business "continues to thrive."

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