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Bio-Rad Seeks Transformational M&A as it Restructures and Invests in MDx Portfolio

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NEW YORK – Bio-Rad Laboratories is on the lookout for "larger, transformational" merger-and-acquisitions, company CEO Norman Schwartz said on a call on Wednesday to discuss the firm's fourth quarter and full-year 2020 financial results.

The wide-ranging call also touched on a two-year restructuring effort that began this week and is expected to lead to the creation of 325 new positions and elimination 530 others, primarily as a shift in operations from Europe to Asia. Bio-Rad is also increasing development of its portfolio of molecular diagnostic tests for its PCR and digital PCR platforms as well as maximizing its opportunity in the burgeoning wastewater-based epidemiology space.

Bio-Rad posted $789.8 million in revenues during Q4, up 27 percent year over year and above the consensus Wall Street estimate. Sales in the life science division was up 77 percent year over year, while clinical diagnostics sales were down 5 percent, both of which the company attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bio-Rad's CFO Ilan Daskal said on the call that the firm saw roughly $313 million of COVID-19 testing-related sales in 2020. He attributed the life science sales to the firm's PCR product lines and strong performance in the biopharma segment, but also said that some of the unexpected demand for the year came from customers experiencing "a larger than normal end-of-year budget release."

Bio-Rad is projecting that the demand for COVID-19 testing will abate as 2021 progresses, and by year's end, 2021 COVID-19 sales will be half of 2020's tally, with most of 2021's numbers achieved in the first half of the year. This decrease is expected to be offset by recovery in the firm's core life science research products and "a good recovery in clinical diagnostics franchises as the year progresses," Schwartz said.

Now, like much of the diagnostics industry Bio-Rad has cash on the balance sheet and is looking for products and technologies to add to its portfolio.

"We're especially interested in the idea of doing something larger and maybe even transformational," Schwartz said, even though "These larger transformational opportunities are few and far between." He said the firm will continue to pursue opportunities that come its way.

Meanwhile, on the call Daskal sketched out a "strategy-driven restructuring plan" designed to improve Bio-Rad's operating performance over the next few years.

The plan primarily impacts operations in Europe "and includes the elimination of certain positions, the consolidation of certain functions, and the relocation of certain manufacturing operations from Europe to Asia," Daskal said.

Specifically, the plan is expected to eliminate approximately 200 positions in manufacturing and 330 positions across the firm's SG&A and R&D functions. The plan will also create approximately  100 new positions in manufacturing and 225 across SG&A and R&D functions.

The restructuring plan will be implemented in phases over the next two years, Daskal said.

Bio-Rad expects to incur as much as $130 million in costs for the plan, including $86 million in cash expenditures associated with layoffs, Daskal said, as well as approximately $19 million in capital expenses associated with the restructuring plan, and up to $25 million in one-time transaction costs.

Bio-Rad expects as much as $90 million of restructuring charges to be recorded in the first quarter of 2021, with the remaining $40 million to be recorded by the end of 2022. Overall, Bio-Rad's chief operating officer Andy Last referred to the effort as "a major and material restructuring."

Despite this overhaul, Bio-Rad is also anticipating continued growth, particularly in its PCR and Droplet Digital PCR businesses. Annette Tumolo, president of the life science group at Bio-Rad, emphasized on the call that the firm has seen strong double-digit growth in ddPCR every quarter.

"We continue to anticipate that in the future," she said, particularly due to growth in the research market, and biopharma discovery and production markets.

Bio-Rad is also "investing quite significantly" into moving into diagnostics with its droplet platforms, Tumolo said. Bio-Rad has Emergency Use Authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration for a ddPCR COVID-19 assay that helps support rapid turnaround times for some customers.

On the non-droplet front, Bio-Rad received EUA for a COVID-19 RT-PCR assay kit last month, and on Wednesday the firm also announced it had received EUA for a combined COVID-19, influenza A/B assay. Both the single target and multitarget tests run on the firm's CFX instruments as well as other open RT-PCR platforms.

Bio-Rad is admittedly late to the game with its COVID-19 RT-PCR kits, but Last confirmed that it expects sales in those products to be in the range of $10 million to $20 million for 2021.

In 2020, "Our upside was driven predominantly by instrument placements," Last said, adding, "We went into the molecular diagnostics segment, this is coming late, and we've got well-reasoned aspiration on those products."

Schwartz also commented that Bio-Rad has baked in a modest contribution for the RT-PCR kits within its COVID-related sales projections, "Since we know we're late." The strategy is to be "a second source to the installed base" and Bio-Rad projects the products will contribute a "modest contribution," he said.

Tumolo further noted that Bio-Rad has a large installed base of PCR products, and the firm is "making sure we approach those customers with our new test options ... as they may need to scale or have a need for reliable second sources."

Bio-Rad is also plans to stay at the forefront of wastewater-based epidemiology, which has burgeoned during the pandemic, particularly as droplet-based PCR methods can effectively avoid problems due to PCR inhibitors present in wastewater samples.

"This is a brand new market, obviously, and kind of rapidly developing and emerging," Tumolo said. Bio-Rad estimates the market to be approximately $200 million over the next four to five years. "We're looking closely at it right now. Most of the demand is North American US-based, but we are certainly working outside the US to try and get attention to the utility of that kind of surveillance," she said.

Bio-Rad will soon be launching an application kit to support WBE surveillance, Tumolo also said, adding, "We'll add variants to that as we can."

In April during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic's first wave, Bio-Rad acquired single-cell analysis firm Celsee for an undisclosed amount, which Tumolo acknowledged "was an unusual time to acquire a startup." It is still early days, she said, but Bio-Rad is investing significantly in the Celsee acquisition and the single-cell area.

"Our goal is to put forward compelling tools for single-cell analysis that really provide best-in-class biological insights, and we think toward the latter part of this year you're going to start seeing some of those products roll out the door," she added 

Overall, Schwartz said that 2020 was "certainly one for the history books," and although Bio-Rad expects COVID-19 revenues will moderate in 2021, "There is still a big question of when the pandemic will come under control."

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