HAMBURG, Germany - In a major worldwide joint venture, Qiagen N.V. and Becton, Dickinson and Co. will form an equally owned Swiss-based company named PreAnalytiX. The new company will develop, manufacture, and market integrated preanalytical solutions for the emerging molecular diagnostics market.

Becton-Dickinson (BD) and Qiagen are market leaders in the sample collection and the nucleic acid stabilization and purification markets, respectively.

With more than 4 billion vacutainer blood collection containers sold each year, BD has about 90 percent market share in the specimen collection and processing business. Qiagen is the world's leading provider of technologies and products to separate, purify and handle nucleic acids. In addition, the company acquired and developed several key technologies for the stabilization of RNA and DNA during the last three years, an important prerequisite for the formation of the joint venture with BD.

"The core competencies of both companies are highly complementary, and the combination creates a tremendous potential for innovations," Peer Schatz, chief financial officer of Qiagen, told BioWorld International. "We have joined forces to provide a new concept for a jump-start into the emerging huge DNA and RNA-based diagnostics market."

He said PreAnalytiX would provide a complete solution encompassing every step that is required to derive DNA and RNA from clinical specimens for analysis - from sample collection and stabilization to transport solutions, and to isolation and purification steps. "Instead of individual, homebrew methods our customers are using today, we will offer an integrated package to deliver ready-to-use nucleic acids. We want to set a new standard with this," Schatz said.

Due to their unique and strong intellectual property positions, both partners believe it will be very difficult for competitors to copy the concept.

"We will profit from the first-mover advantage and from the tremendous sales force of Becton, Dickinson," Schatz said. "The joint venture will open up an access to virtually every diagnostics company in the world."

The first product is expected to be commercialized in Europe during the fourth quarter of 2000, and additional products are scheduled for launch in 2001. The first product line will integrate sample collection, cell lysing, and stabilization and binding of RNA and DNA. The molecular diagnostics market, now estimated at $600 million to $700 million, is expected to grow to $1.5 billion to $3 billion in 2004.