Quest to unveil new epilepsy tests in the wake of disappointing Q1 numbers

Quest Diagnostics ($DGX) is rolling out a new line of epilepsy tests against the backdrop of a continued struggle to generate solid revenue growth. In the wake of depressing 2014 first-quarter numbers, those new products could be a step toward helping the New Jersey company turn the tide.

The rollout consists of several new sequencing test panels dubbed Epilepsy Advanced Sequencing Evaluations, and they're designed to identify specific forms of epilepsy. Clinicians will use the tests on genes connected to a specific epilepsy type, and they rely on next-generation gene sequencing and neuroimmunological testing to get the job done. Quest, hoping to make a splash, expects to debut the tests during the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting from April 26 to May 3.

Quest envisions the panels as helping clinicians to avoid overuse of other kinds of neurological testing, including brain imaging. (The new panels are arranged by clinical phenotype and EEG test findings.) More importantly, they could enable a personalized medicine-style approach for epilepsy diagnosis. One of the new tests, for example, is billed as being the first multianalyte panel that can analyze 5 antibodies connected with autoimmune epilepsy. According to the company, close to 10% of epilepsy cases involve this particular iteration of the neurological disorder.

Epilepsy often involves seizures and cognitive impairment stemming from brain-related electrical disturbances. But the causes are numerous, including tumors, trauma, infection and genetic factors. Treatments also vary, from drugs to various surgical procedures. Close to 2.3 million adults in the U.S. have the condition, according to statistics Quest cites from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The tests come out of Quest's Athena Diagnostics division. Quest bought the company for $740 million in 2011 and continues to run it as an independent business unit. For Quest, which is struggling to revamp itself and create more robust revenue growth, Athena has proven to be a solid source of new products. Earlier in 2013, for example, Quest/Athena rolled out a diagnostic test panel designed to identify dementia stemming from treatable causes, though it may someday help lead to Alzheimer's diagnoses by ruling out other factors.

Quest recently released its 2014 first-quarter numbers, and they were disappointing. Revenue came in at $1.8 billion, but that's a 2.3% drop from the same period a year ago. The company also reported a drop in net income. Diagnostic information services revenue also took a dive, due in part to federal reimbursement changes and an acquisition.

Quest continues to pursue its 5-point strategy to restore growth and recently completed its purchase of prevention and wellness services outfit Summit Health for an undisclosed sum.

- read the release

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