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Caprion Aims to Expand Immune Monitoring Business With European Acquisition


NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Caprion's acquisition of ImmuneHealth's immune monitoring laboratory is key to bolstering its ImmuneCarta immune monitoring business, a company official told GenomeWeb this week.

The purchase gives Caprion a European footprint, which will allow it to service clinical trials there that require analysis of fresh blood or tissue samples, said Martin LeBlanc, the company's president and CEO. This is particularly important for trials in immune oncology, he said, which is a substantial and growing portion of Caprion's business.

"The strategic imperative for us was to establish a lab footprint in Europe in order to cater to the needs of our clients for global clinical trials that involve fresh sample analysis," LeBlanc said. He noted that such analyses require that samples be analyzed within around 24 to 36 hours after they are taken, which puts European trials out of reach of the company's Montreal headquarters.

"Probably about a quarter of the business we do in immune monitoring requires fresh sample analysis," LeBlanc said. He added that demand for fresh sample analysis is growing within the immune monitoring business generally, and growing even faster within Caprion's market niche, which he said focuses on complex, multiparametric assays.

"We were not being considered for European trials that had a requirement for fresh [samples]. That business was going to people other than us," LeBlanc said. "And so for us to really continue to grow we needed to be there."

Beyond fresh sample analysis, the acquisition could help the company's European business more generally, he added. "I think there is a perception in Europe that if you don't have a lab [there] you are not taken as seriously. So this is going to be helpful to us for some customers who would prefer a local vendor."

The acquisition could also help Caprion move into new immunology businesses, specifically vaccine development, LeBlanc said. "Where we are strong in immune oncology and a few other areas, [ImmuneHealth is] primarily focused on infectious disease, vaccine [development] for influenza, [and] HIV. So they are very complementary in the assay capabilities that they bring."

Based in Gosselies, Belgium, the acquired laboratory has 13 employees. LeBlanc said Caprion plans to add new equipment to the facility to ensure its capabilities match those of its Montreal laboratory.

Caprionm's ImmuneCarta platform consists of several different components, including 18-parameter flow cytometry, single-cell cytokine quantification, and custom serological assays. Caprion has marketed the platform primarily as a research tool to date but aims to expand into more clinical projects, including development of diagnostics and companion diagnostics. In a January Nature Communications paper, the company, in collaboration with Merck, used the platform to identify patients likely to generate a weak immune response to vaccination. LeBlanc suggested at the time that this work demonstrated its potential for clinical applications.

LeBlanc said Caprion also plans to expand its business development operation in Europe not only for ImmuneCarta but also for its ProteoCarta mass spec-based proteomics platform.

"I think that having feet on the ground [in Europe] on a regular basis will help us develop additional clientele for proteomics," he said.

Most of Caprion's proteomics work uses frozen samples, and so proximity to European sites is not as big an issue as it is for the ImmuneCarta business, LeBlanc said. Nonetheless, he said, the company is interested in possibly opening a European facility for that side of the business. He added that if this were to happen it would likely be through an additional acquisition, as opposed to an expansion of the company's new immune monitoring laboratory.

"We don't see as much of a logistical or geographic need to have a [proteomics] lab footprint there, but we are always looking at M&A opportunities," LeBlanc said. "So to the extent that those reside in Europe we would be very happy, because that certainly fits with the strategy that GHO Capital and we have together, and we certainly want to bolster our business development efforts in Europe now that we have an operation there."

Among the company's European collaborators on the proteomics side are diagnostics firm Abcodia and Cancer Research UK with which it is working on discovery and validation of serum-based protein biomarkers for colorectal, lung, esophageal, and pancreatic cancers.

Caprion announced in July it had been purchased by London-based healthcare firm GHO Capital, and in an interview following the announcement LeBlanc said that GHO's financial resources could allow the company to expand its geographical footprint via acquisitions.

"They have a pretty big fund with around €600 million ($657 million) in investments that allows them to be able to back us up on any acquisitions we want to make," he said, noting that the company was looking to expand into Europe first, with plans to target an Asia expansion down the road.

LeBlanc said Caprion and GHO believed that adding facilities via acquisitions was a more efficient route than building them new from the ground up.

"If you select the right acquisition you save both time and money," he said, noting that starting a lab involved not just building the physical space and obtaining the necessary equipment and staff but also building up operating and quality assurance procedures and establishing the operation's credibility with potential customers.

The lab also comes with ISO, GCLP, and GMP certifications, which Caprion would have to obtain for a new facility.

LeBlanc said that the company expected the lab would "be profitable very soon just by adding a few existing customer contracts."