Sequenom reaches into France with prenatal Dx

Sequenom CEO Harry Hixson

Sequenom ($SQNM) has inked a deal with France's Laboratoire Cerba to expand the reach of the company's MaterniT21 Plus test, designed to noninvasively detect chromosomal abnormalities.

Under the deal, Sequenom will license its prenatal testing technology to Laboratoire Cerba, which will market the diagnostic in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and 9 other countries in the Middle East and Africa. The test is designed for pregnant mothers at risk for aneuploidy--an irregular number of chromosomes--and can detect fetal amounts of the 21, 18, 13, X and Y chromosomes by analyzing maternal blood.

The deal with Cerba falls in line with Sequenom's plan to expand access to its services around the globe, and the company has been growing rapidly over the past year to meet demand. Last quarter, Sequenom increased its diagnostics sales staff to about 84 as revenue jumped 158% to $38.5 million.

In August, Sequenom signed distribution agreements to make MaterniT21 Plus available in Asia, Eastern Europe and Israel, and CEO Harry Hixson said the company is working with U.S. payers to expand reimbursement for the test stateside.

Sequenom processed about 44,500 MaterniT21 Plus tests last quarter, a 250% spike over the previous year, mostly through the company's CLIA-certified molecular diagnostics reference lab in San Diego. The Cerba deal, which effectively deputizes the French lab to handle accessions of the test, will help spread the adoption of MaterniT21 Plus without forcing Sequenom to fund a costly global scale-up.

But while Sequenom has reaped the benefits of first-mover status in the prenatal testing space, mounting competition will contend for market share around the world. Verinata Health, acquired by Illumina ($ILMN) for $350 million this year, is gaining ground with its maternal blood test, and venture-backed Natera raised $54.6 million in financing this month to advance Panorama, a prenatal diagnostic the company touts as having the highest specificity of any test available.

- read Sequenom's statement

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