Qiagen ($QGEN) has started marketing a next-generation tuberculosis blood test in China, four months after winning regulatory approval there in what will be a key market for the company in the months ahead.
The Dutch diagnostics and research technology giant has big plans for its QuantiFeron-TB Gold test. Qiagen said it is marketing the test with an eye on supplanting the longtime standard of care in the U.S. and Europe, a tuberculin skin test. The Qiagen test is more sensitive and specific and pitched as an "easier-to-handle modern alternative" that can reduce false-positive readings in patients with a type of TB vaccination. Tuberculin skin tests in this situation are relatively inaccurate, Qiagen said.
With that in mind, China--the world's most populous nation--will be very important to Qiagen and QuantiFeron-TB Gold. The country deals with 1 million new cases of active tuberculosis annually, according to World Health Organization statistics cited by Qiagen. What's more, the company estimates that 550 million people in China are infected with the TB bacterium, and the country faces potential problems with more TB transmissions as it becomes more urban.
Qiagen has already billed the test as being on track to becoming its largest product, according to previous reports. This is where M&A deals can become crucial to sparking new growth at a larger company. Qiagen gained access to the technology in 2011 when it snatched up Australia's Cellestis, and the test has had U.S. FDA approval since 2005.
Qiagen isn't without competition in the tuberculosis diagnostics space. Among its rivals: the U.K.'s Oxford Immunotec ($OXFD), which recently raised $64 million in an IPO designed to help broaden sales, marketing and customer service operations for its T-SPOT blood diagnostic test for latent TB infection. The test is already approved in the U.S., Europe, Japan and China, and also designed to be more sensitive and specific than the current tuberculin skin test--which is about 100 years old.
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