By Lisa Seachrist

Washington Editor

WASHINGTON — In an effort to diversify its product lineup, pharmaceutical giant Abbott Laboratories has engaged in a $234 million friendly takeover of diagnostics specialist International Murex Technologies Corp.

Abbott, of Abbot Park, Ill., has put out a call for Murex stock, offering $13 per share — a 22 percent premium over the closing price last Friday. Abbott needs to obtain 75 percent of the Toronto-based company's stock to complete the deal.

"The biggest aspect of our interest in Murex was the type of technology it offered," said Rhonda Luniak, spokeswoman for Abbott. "Their technology fit well with our existing hepatitis and retrovirus diagnostic programs. In addition, they have expertise in DNA probes that we found very attractive."

Abbott was most interested, however, in Murex's microtiter technology, Luniak said. Abbott currently uses a coated bead technology to perform diagnostic tests, a technology requiring customers to use an Abbott test read by an Abbott instrument.

Microtiter technology coats the reactive reagent onto the well of a standard microtiter plate, allowing customers to use standard instrumentation to conduct Abbott tests.

"Our customers have been asking us for microtiter technology," Luniak said. "This will allow us to give them a new option."

Under terms of the agreement, Abbott will commence a cash tender offer to acquire 100 percent of the outstanding shares of Murex for $13 each. Following the tender offer, the remaining Murex shares will be acquired by a wholly-owned subsidiary of Abbott. Murex will then be absorbed into Abbott.

Murex's board of directors unanimously voted in favor of the takeover.

The call for shares will go out by the end of the week, and the tender will remain open for five weeks. The takeover is subject to regulatory approvals and closing conditions.

Abbott's purchase represents yet another consolidation in the diagnostics industry.

"This is a pretty small acquisition for Abbott Laboratories," Luniak noted. "I characterize this deal as Abbott looking for products and technologies that will grow faster as a part of Abbott than outside the company. This is one piece of our overall growth in the diagnostics business."

Murex's stock (NASDAQ:MURXF) closed Tuesday at $12.437, down $0.25. Abbott (NYSE:ABT) ended the day at $78.125, up $0.187. *