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PerkinElmer Slowly Building MDx Profile

By Tony Fong

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – With this week's announcement of its acquisition of nucleic acid isolation technology firm Chemagen Biopolymer-Technologie, PerkinElmer is taking another step toward building out is molecular diagnostics portfolio.

The Waltham, Mass.-based firm is best known as a broad-based health and life science firm and not as a molecular diagnostics company, but over the past year, it has taken steps to increase its presence in that space. PerkinElmer does not offer molecular diagnostic platforms or tests, nor has it said that it intends to do so. Rather, its strategy has been to offer products that support research into the MDx space.

According to Daniel Marshak, chief scientific officer and president of PerkinElmer's Emerging Diagnostics division, the company has been in the space for several years now, starting with its liquid handling business used by DNA researchers. It continued to build its presence by offering products in the array comparative genomics hybridization arena for analysis of chromosomal additions and deletions.

Last April, PerkinElmer acquired genetic testing firm Signature Genomics. When the deal was announced, PerkinElmer said the deal would strengthen its existing genetic testing service business, "expand its position in early detection of disease, specifically in the molecular diagnostics market, and provide the company with additional strengths in cancer diagnostics."

And a few weeks ago, PerkinElmer entered the next-generation sequencing space by introducing a next-gen sequencing and analysis service "to enable researchers to better explore the genomic origins of disease," it said in a statement.

Other products launched in the past few years by the firm with MDx applications include its BACs-on-Beads assays for targeted molecular karyotyping and gene panels directed at leukemia as a service. The company also has a number of assays and systems for maternal and newborn health screening, as well as perinatal screening.

"So over the last couple of years, there's been a consistent trend or strategy to offer more products and services that support this molecular diagnostics community," Marshak told GenomeWeb Daily News. "And that's our aim."

While the company does not break out revenue figures for its molecular diagnostics-related business, diagnostics as a whole makes up 30 percent of total company revenues, with MDx products a component of that, a PerkinElmer spokesman said. Life sciences research makes up 20 percent of company-wide revenues.

In continuing its move into MDx territory, the company is seeking to capitalize on one of the largest growth segments in life sciences. Estimates have placed the MDx industry at around $4 billion to $5 billion and growing at around 15 percent annually.

The Chemagen acquisition, Marshak said, launches PerkinElmer into the DNA purification space. The technology can be used on the front end for a number of applications, including PCR and other DNA amplification methods, as well as array analysis, and DNA sequencing.

"One of the key things about the Chemagen acquisition is that it's not only a good method for isolating nucleic acids, it's also an important way to automate the preparation of nucleic acids," he said. "And I think that as nucleic acid becomes more widespread and becomes large scale … the Chemagen technology will prove to be very, very useful for automated DNA preparation as a front end for any of the analysis methods that will be used."

Moving ahead, PerkinElmer's interest in technology within the molecular diagnostics arena will be guided by researcher interest. As a company policy, PerkinElmer doesn't discuss its long-term business strategy, Marshak said, declining to elaborate on the company's plans. In the past, though, company officials have said that the emphasis will be on the life sciences and in "doing more and more in the diagnostics arena," he noted.

That path was set during the summer when PerkinElmer announced it was selling its Illumination and Detection Solutions business for $500 million to private equity firm Veritas Capital Fund III. The sale was done so that PerkinElmer could focus its attention on its higher-growth Human Health and Environmental Health businesses.

That shift, Marshak said, includes an emphasis on increasing its presence in the MDx space. But he declined to comment specifically about his company's potential acquisition pipeline.

During the company's recent fourth quarter earnings conference call, though, Chairman and CEO Robert Friel touched on PerkinElmer's strategy, saying it has a "solid and expanding pipeline of potential acquisition targets that we're actively engaged [in] and reviewing."

In particular, he noted that the firm's "acquisition priorities" are to build out its perinatal markets by broadening its offerings in services, reagents, consumables, and software.

Marshak added this week that the firm has low debt and the ability to "do more in this field. So it's an interesting time for us."

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