UPDATED: Quintiles adds in-house genomic testing with latest buyout

Quintiles has scooped up a provider of genomic testing and analysis as the global pharma services company beefs up its internal capabilities to support the development of personalized drugs. With the buyout of Expression Analysis, Quintiles builds on a series of acquisitions and alliances that advance the genomics revolution into research labs and clinical trials, where drugs are being designed and developed to home in on the specific molecular drivers of disease found in discrete groups of patients.

The buyer will keep the existing Expression Analysis operation and its 77 employees--most of which are located in Research Triangle Park, NC--and fold it into its own organization. From its labs near Quintiles' own North Carolina headquarters, Expression Analysis offers whole-genome and focused-set gene expression and genotyping assays as well as next-generation sequencing, sequence enrichment and bioinformatics services. And its capabilities enable researchers and drug developers to, say, identify patients likely to respond to a drug in clinical trials based on their genetic makeup. The deal was announced Monday morning.

Quintiles' main customers in biopharma have made personalizing drugs a major priority as they aim to usher safer and more effective treatments to market, and supporting development of the therapies has been a must for the CRO. Prior to the Expression Analysis deal, for instance, Quintiles invested in U.K.-based Oxford Cancer Biomarkers earlier this year, becoming the outfit's largest shareholder, and gaining a stake in the company's companion diagnostics and predictive tests for anti-cancer treatments. And last year Quintiles revealed a non-exclusive deal with the U.K.'s Population Genetics Technologies, a provider of large-scale genomic analysis, to advance the use of genomics in drug development. 

Next-generation sequencing has become faster and cheaper, making the technology more accessible for a variety of applications such as clinical trials. Sequencing technology has advanced at a torrid clip, and Expression Analysis has adopted some of the current platforms such as Illumina's ($ILMN) HiSeq systems and the desktop sequencer from Life Technologies ($LIFE) Ion Torrent, said Brad Smith, Quintiles' vice president of drug development planning and design. 

"Our main focus is how does this impact how drugs are developed," Smith said in an interview with FierceCRO, "and Expression Analysis is at the forefront of that."

As the Pharma Times reported, Quintiles also bought Targeted Molecular Diagnostics, an outfit focused on cancer biomarkers, in December 2008. In 2010, the global pharma services company joined forces with the U.K. nonprofit London Genetics with the intention of using the group's pharmacogenetics capabilities to support personalized treatment. Such technologies are indispensable in developing targeted therapies. A mutated gene, for instance, might wreak havoc in one patient's lung tumor but not the next, so a targeted drug against the gene of interest might not be effective for the second patient. And companies need efficient means of identifying likely responders and non-responders for clinical trials and beyond.

Several major CROs have partnered up with or purchased genomics labs as pharma groups opt to outsource such work rather than perform the work internally. Covance ($CVD), for example, bought Merck's ($MRK) gene-expression operation in Seattle in 2009, securing a $145 million services contract from the U.S. drug giant in the deal. 

"The addition of [Expression Analysis] to Quintiles is another step forward in our efforts to bring personalized medicine into mainstream drug development," Thomas Wollman, senior vice president of Quintiles' global labs, said in a release. "Its expertise in genetic sequencing and advanced bioinformatics is essential to understanding diseases and drugs at the molecular level. That's a huge step in creating more value across the healthcare spectrum."

Steve McPhail, the president and CEO of Expression Analysis, is expected to continue to run the business, which will be called "EA" as part of Quintiles. As The News & Observer reported, Expression Analysis spun off from labs at Duke University in 2001 and the company's financial chief says the operation has grown every year since. Financial details of Quintiles' buyout of EA weren't disclosed.

- here's the release
- see the Pharma Times' article
- and The News & Observer's report

UPDATED: With quotes from an interview with Quintiles' Brad Smith. Correction: This story incorrectly stated that Quintiles bought Oxford Cancer Biomarkers, when actually the CRO acquired a majority stake in the outfit through an investment. We regret the error.

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