U.K. company readies jump into bustling prenatal Dx market

A U.K. company aims to become the latest player in an already-packed prenatal diagnostics market, with plans to launch its first test in the European Union and Asia.

Premaitha Health said it has begun trading on the London Stock Exchange platform AIM and raised $12.35 million through a stock offering to back the rollout of its Iona prenatal diagnostic test. Iona is designed to help pregnant women determine fetal risks for Down syndrome or other genetic diseases. It works by analyzing circulating fetal DNA, and Premaitha bills Iona as having a higher detection rate and fewer false positives than the competition.

Plans call for launching Iona in Europe in early 2015, after which the company will begin a broader sales and marketing push in Asia. 

Competition can be good, of course, but in the prenatal space, it's already substantial. Analysts have estimated that the market could hit $3.6 billion by 2019, essentially tripling where it stands now. This means that diagnostics developers smell opportunity, but there will also be potential fallout as top sellers and struggling players become clear over time.

Competitors include Ariosa Diagnostics, which earlier this spring appeared to put the brakes on a planned IPO worth as much as $68 million. The San Jose, CA, company launched its Harmony prenatal test in 2012 to detect Down syndrome, Turner syndrome and other genetic abnormalities and sells the product globally. Other rivals in the space include Sequenom ($SQNM), Natera and Illumina's ($ILMN) Verinata Health. They compete heavily in the U.S. and elsewhere, and Ariosa and Illumina have faced patent battles with Sequenom in court.

Premaitha may be smart starting in Europe, and particularly so in Asia, because emerging markets are a major source of growth for diagnostics and other life sciences companies as governments modernize their healthcare systems.

- read the release

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