Diagnostics & Imaging Weeks

French in vitro diagnostics leader bioMérieux (Marcy L’Etoile, France) said it has acquired BTF Precise Microbiology (BTF; Sydney, Australia), along with its prized technology for testing food, water and pharmaceutical products.

BTF has built a niche in industrial microbiology and its acquisition by bioMérieux is expected to result in new products for a broad spectrum of life sciences applications for media quality control, quantitative quality control, method validation, accreditation compliance and multi-laboratory standardization.

Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

BTF was privately held by its founders and the venture capital firm Kestrel Capital. It will operate as a stand-alone subsidiary of bioMérieux.

In addition to integrating the BTF technology into its product portfolio, bioMérieux said it will “significantly expand” market opportunities for BTF innovations through its commercial network, covering 150 countries through a combination of 35 subsidiaries and a network of distributors.

bioMérieux offers diagnostic tools to determine sources of infectious diseases and contamination, identify high-risk cardiovascular conditions and screen for cancer. The company’s products are also used for detecting microorganisms in food products, pharmaceuticals and cosmetic products.

“We are acutely aware of the quality-assurance challenges our customers are facing and are constantly on the lookout for technological breakthroughs that can facilitate their work,” said Alexandre Merieux, VP for industrial microbiology at the French company.

BTF products are used in quality control for testing processes, to verify the performance of control methods and assure precise reference samples for analytical laboratories.

According to bioMérieux’s manager for pharmaceutical marketing, Renaud Jonquieres, the accuracy of BTF’s BioBall technology is essential for pharmaceutical companies facing significant penalties for non-compliance with quality control requirements. He said some major companies in recent years have experienced shut-downs of facilities due to failed inspections.

BioBall is used in processing systems to remove host bacteria from biologics that need to be validated before they can be included in a manufacturing process. The BTF technology is described as a labor-saving device for bacterial preparation needed to ensure the sterility of vaccines, pharmaceuticals and clean rooms.

BTF is the third company acquired in the past 12 months by bioMérieux as it pursues an aggressive five-year strategy — unveiled in January — to build its core competencies in a growing market for diagnostics of infectious diseases.

bioMérieux also reported that it has signed an agreement with Ipsen (Paris) in which bioMérieux will develop a companion test for a new breast cancer drug undergoing clinical evaluation by Ipsen.

The development will be co-funded by bioMérieux and Ipsen.

Ipsen is developing a breast cancer therapy, BN 83495, targeting the steroid sulfatase enzyme (STS). The new drug, designed to block this marker found in hormone-dependent breast cancer in postmenopausal women, is currently in Phase I clinical development.

bioMérieux will devise a companion assay to determine the patients best suited to benefit from the new STS inhibitor treatment. The assay is intended for both the clinical development of the Ipsen drug as well as a diagnostic test, potentially for future commercialization.

The test will be developed on bioMérieux’s NucliSENS EasyQ molecular diagnostics platform, using the company’s NASBA amplification technology.

Symbion shareholders nix takeover bid

Shareholders of Symbion Health (Melbourne, Australia) have rejected the A$2.9 billion ($2.4 billion) takeover bid led by Healthscope, extending a nine-month battle for more than 130 pathology laboratories and medical clinics in Australia.

According to a Bloomberg report, Primary Health Care, which amassed a 20% stake in Symbion after its own buyout bid was rejected in February, voted against the A$4.49-a-share offer, preventing Healthscope from getting the three-quarters majority needed for approval.

Bloomberg said the vote may prompt Primary, Australia’s third-largest health company, to revive its own takeover plans. At stake are more than 900 clinics, labs and collection centers in Australia, where the proportion of retirees will double over the next 40 years, stoking healthcare demand, the news service said.

Symbion, Australia’s biggest healthcare firm, and Healthscope may discuss an alternative plan for completing the proposal within the next five days, they said.

Excluding Primary’s stake, 99.2% of shares voted were cast in favor of Healthscope’s proposal, Symbion said in its statement. “Our proposal is extremely popular with Symbion shareholders as a whole,” said Bruce Dixon, Healthscope managing director.

Symbion’s laboratories analyze specimens from about 10 million patients a year that are collected at 660 centers in every state except South Australia and Tasmania. That gives it about a third of the private pathology market in Australia, according to the Bloomberg story.

Healthscope, Australia’s second-biggest hospital owner, has teamed with buyout firms Ironbridge Capital and Archer Capital in the bid to acquire Symbion. The company wanted to take the pathology and medical centers and laboratories, while the buyout firms would get a drug distribution unit that services 3,000 pharmacies and hospitals, and a vitamin-making business that includes the Cenovis and Nature’s Own brands.

Saudi hospital in accord with Perkin-Elmer

PerkinElmer (Waltham, Massachusetts), a major global developer of products for health sciences and photonics, has reported a multi-year agreement with the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), to support its expanded newborn screening program.

PerkinElmer will provide instrumentation, reagents, software and screening expertise that will help the hospital double its screening capacity by the end of next year. The contract, to be executed through PerkinElmer’s regional distributor, HVD Vertriebs, also will expand the hospital’s program from screening for one disorder to a total of four disorders.

“We are pleased to partner with King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre to aid in the expansion of its newborn screening program,” said Robert Friel, president and COO of PerkinElmer. “[We are] committed to supporting early detection programs worldwide with leading neonatal screening technology designed to identify infants at risk for devastating metabolic disorders, enabling early intervention and treatment to save lives and improve quality of life.”

About 800,000 children are born each year in Saudi Arabia, which has a population of about 27.6 million. The King Faisal Hospital is that country’s leading provider of neonatal screening for genetic disorders, which allows for the early identification and treatment of otherwise debilitating or life-threatening conditions and has become one of the most widely accepted procedures in preventative pediatrics.

Through this expanded initiative with PerkinElmer, King Faisal Hospital said it hopes to double its screening rate to 200,000 newborns by the end of 2008, and to 400,000 newborns by the end of 2009.

The hospital will use Specimen Gate, PerkinElmer’s screening laboratory information management system. It said the software will allow the facility to implement a “comprehensive solution” that will electronically track laboratory workflow from sample receipt and preparation, through the analytical steps, to quality control review, reporting and follow-up.

PerkinElmer currently provides King Faisal Hospital with reagents for screening congenital hypothyroidism, which if left untreated can lead to severe mental retardation.

Under the expanded program, which will begin late this year, additional tests will be provided by PerkinElmer for congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a hormonal disorder affecting the adrenal glands; galactosemia, which if left untreated, can cause poor development or death; and biotinidase deficiency, which can lead to seizures, developmental delay, eczema and hearing loss.

Central European distributor signed by Viking

Viking Systems (San Diego), a manufacturer of laparoscopic vision systems for use in minimally invasive surgical (MIS) procedures, has expanded its international distribution network by adding a new partner, Biomedica Medizinprodukte (Vienna, Austria).

Biomedica will exclusively market and sell Viking’s 3Di Vision System technology in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Switzerland, Poland and Romania.

Viking said Biomedica, which was founded in 1978, has expertise the distribution of advanced medical devices in the fields of cardiology, nephrology, orthopedics and intensive care.

Stephen Heniges, senior vice president of global marketing and clinical development for Viking Systems, said, “Biomedica is one of the most successful distributors of high-quality medical device technologies in Central Europe. They provide the range of distribution in key countries that matches Viking’s growth plan, and bring the industry focus, knowledge and professionalism that is critical to our mutual success.”

Viking’s 3Di Vision System is an advanced 3-D vision system used by surgeons for complex minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, with an initial focus on applications in urology, gynecology, bariatric and general surgery. Viking also manufactures advanced 2-D systems for targeted configurations and channels, as well as 2-D cameras and components, through strategic partners and OEM programs.

Guerbet rebounds from production problems

Guerbet (Villepinte, France), specializing in imaging contrast agents, reported a 12% gain in profits in the first half of 2007 as well as unveiling an ambitious plan to more than double production capacity.

The announcement shows a strong rebound for Guerbet, which reported profitability down 18% for 2006, due to unspecified “production incidents.”

Sales were up 5.4% to €152 million ($211 million), with a 12.3% increase in net income to €12.2 million ($16.9 million)

Sales growth of flagship products Dotarem and Xenetix grew 19.2% and 4%, respectively, with particularly robust performances in France, Germany and Italy, the company said. These two products account for two-thirds of sales.

Guerbet reported growth in its current production was achieved “without noteworthy incidents” and that the impact of this significant manufacturing improvement will show up in its financial report for the full year.