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Caprion Eyeing Acquisitions, Geographic Expansion After Purchase by GHO Capital

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Under new ownership after being acquired by London-based healthcare firm GHO Capital, Caprion is looking to expand into new businesses and geographies, CEO Martin LeBlanc told GenomeWeb.

Caprion announced this week that it had been purchased by GHO from previous owner Chicago Growth Partners for an undisclosed amount. LeBlanc said that the company will continue to operate much as it has been, maintaining both its Montreal headquarters and its existing management team.

He added, though, that the company would consider acquisitions to bolster its existing businesses or move into new ones. He also said Caprion planned to expand internationally, with Europe being its first target and Asia another potential target down the road.

LeBlanc noted that GHO's financial resources and experience in the contract research business could help the company in both pursuits.

GHO "comes with a very strong industry background. They have deep experience in the CRO space, and so I do think we could benefit from some of those contacts of theirs," he said. "And 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."

Caprion provides immunology and proteomics research services to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Its two main offerings are its ImmuneCarta platform, which uses flow cytometry for immune monitoring, and ProteoCarta, a multiple-reaction monitoring-based mass spec platform for both biomarker discovery and targeted quantitation. With the platform, the company is able to quantify around 1,500 proteins in serum.

"We think of ourselves as a proteomics and immune monitoring company, and I think there are some very good complementary acquisitions we can be making in both those spaces to maybe complement our offerings and broaden our capabilities in certain key areas, LeBlanc said. He cited as possible areas for expansion different immune monitoring applications as well as building the company's business in biologics development and characterization.

Complementary omics approaches "are also always possible acquisition targets for us," he said.

Regarding its potential geographic expansion, LeBlanc said that establishing a facility in Europe could particularly help the company's clinical study services business.

"To be seen as a global vendor we have to have a footprint in Europe, particular for [clinical] studies where you are analyzing samples within a certain stability window of less than a couple of days," he said. This is particularly a concern for the immune monitoring side of the business, where LeBlanc said "there are increasing numbers of global clinical trials that have sites in both Europe and North America."

In addition to its services business, Caprion is also involved in a number of diagnostics development projects, both internally and in collaboration with outside groups. The company did a significant portion of the biomarker discovery and validation work for Integrated Diagnostics' Xpresys lung cancer test, which became the first multiplexed proteomic test to go to market using MRM-MS on a triple quadrupole instrument when it launched in 2013.

In 2015, Caprion licensed the Xpresys test from Indi, obtaining exclusive rights to market and commercialize the test in Canada. At the time, the company planned to release the test by the end of 2015, but LeBlanc said this week that it would most likely be a 2017 release.

"We are currently in the process of submitting [the test] to various provincial regulatory authorities and reimbursement boards to get Xpresys reimbursed first in Quebec and then in the rest of Canada," he said. "We expect to have news on that in the fourth quarter [of 2016] or the first quarter of next year."

Caprion is also building a CLIA lab out of which it plans to offer Xpresys. LeBlanc said he expected that facility would be completed before the end of the year. He noted that in addition to Xpresys, the CLIA lab was important for Caprion's services business as it has seen increased demand for companion biomarker work as part of clinical trials.

The company is also collaborating with UK-based diagnostics firm Abcodia and Cancer ResearchUK on the discovery and validation of blood-based protein biomarkers for colorectal, lung, esophageal, and pancreatic cancers. Abcodia selected Caprion in late 2014 as a partner for its biomarker work using samples from the UK Collaborative Trial for Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) collection, to which Abcodia has an exclusive commercial license. The UKCTOCS collection consists of more than 5 million serum samples taken from 200,000 initially healthy volunteers, some 27,000 of which have subsequently been diagnosed with various cancers.

Caprion is developing plasma protein-based tests for early detection of diabetes and monitoring response to treatment, as well. The test consists of protein markers linked to the health status of a subject's pancreatic beta cells, LeBlanc said, adding that the company is in the middle of several separate validation studies for the test. It also currently offers the markers to its pharma customers as a research tool for diabetes drug development work, which, LeBlanc noted, allows the company to further validate the markers in clinical trial cohorts.

He said that the initial version of the test would be aimed at pharma firms for use in clinical trials.

LeBlanc said he anticipated another sale of the company in four to five years, as this is the typical window for an exit for a firm like GHO. Caprion has been owned by a series of private equity firms — first by Greenwich, Connecticut-based healthcare investment firm Great Point Partners, which sold the company to Chicago Growth Partners in 2012. Terms of these deals were not disclosed, but LeBlanc said this week that in both cases the companies received a "strong multiple" on their investments.

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