By Matthew Willett

In a move designed to expand its presence in Europe, Orchid BioSciences Inc. acquired all the assets of AstraZeneca plc subsidiary Cellmark Diagnostics, a provider of genetic diversity testing services.

Concurrent to the acquisition, the companies entered a multiyear genotyping agreement calling for Princeton, N.J.-based Orchid to conduct studies using single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). The agreement includes access for AstraZeneca, of London, to Orchid's SNP databases, development of proprietary SNP panels and the use of those panels.

Orchid CEO Dale Pfost said the purchase could create accretive earnings within the next year or two, but that the long-term benefits of the genotyping business expansion outweigh the short-term concerns.

"What we've seen is that in the post-genomics era one big trend is in the use of measurement of genetic diversity in a variety of applications," Pfost told BioWorld Today from London. "In part, Orchid is focused on pharmacogenetics and building applications for clinical quality genetic testing. We wanted to gain access to the facilities at Cellmark to expand our presence here in Europe."

Pfost called the genotyping deal one of the biggest in pharmacogenetics in recent years. That deal will focus on major disease areas, including gastrointestinal disease, oncology, central nervous system disorders and respiratory ailments.

"What's more important is that we see the uses of genetic diversity testing expanding dramatically to help the drug discovery and development pipeline," he said. "Our collaboration with AstraZeneca is, we believe, the largest pharamcogenentics collaboration announced in the last couple of years."

Though the purchase price wasn't disclosed, Pfost did confirm the deal included an equity stake in Orchid for AstraZeneca. He called the collaboration a multimillion-dollar deal, but further details were undisclosed.

The long-term value of the deal is both in genetic diversity testing and a potential for collaborations and partnerships using the SNP panels the companies will develop.

"What we're working on is building a platform of medically valuable SNPs used by Orchid in building our business, and there are tie-ins with diagnostics and pharmaceuticals," he said. n