Lab21, mystery pharma partner to launch colon cancer companion Dx in 2012

U.K. diagnostics company Lab21 says it has sealed a deal with a Big Pharma company to develop and jointly market a companion diagnostic assay designed to detect particular mutations in colorectal cancer samples. The test would go with the unnamed partner's therapeutic monoclonal antibody.

Let the guessing games begin. All Lab21 would say about the new deal is that it is with "one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies" and that the agreement calls for developing, making and distributing the molecular diagnostic test, with a launch expected this year under its Onconostica brand name. Additionally, Lab21 will offer sample analysis for the mystery pharmaceutical company at its Cambridge, U.K. laboratory. While Lab21 isn't disclosing financial terms, executives disclose that the test will be based on the company's recently acquired SPARQ PCR technology and the pharmaceutical company will co-brand the product with Lab21.

Lab21 has worked with major pharmaceutical companies before. In recent years, Amgen ($AMGN) agreed to use a Lab21 diagnostic test to see which patients were good fits for its cancer drug Vectibix, and the company agreed to work with AstraZeneca ($AZN) to provide genetic testing for lung cancer patients. Additionally, Lab21 is also working with other diagnostics outfits. Almost a year ago, Lab21 and Becton, Dickinson's ($BDX) BD Diagnostics united begin a partnership to develop an assay that would detect the Aspergillus fungus, which can cause infections that threaten the lives of immunocompromised patients.

But beyond those partnerships, Lab21's new deal shows once again how important companion diagnostics are becoming in the larger development picture. Simply put, personalized medicine continues to come on strong. And as more drugs reach the market that work well against a particular genetic variation of a form of cancer or other disease, a companion diagnostic test will be key to quickly identifying patient subsets that will benefit most. We're heading ever-closer to the point where many major disease-related drugs won't exist without a diagnostic test designed to go with them.

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