EU order for Illumina to divest Grail could arrive within the week: reports

Regulators in the EU are said to be on the verge of handing down an order forcing Illumina to divest Grail, according to multiple reports this week, following a yearslong antitrust battle that’s stretched across the Atlantic.

A Monday report from the Financial Times citing three unnamed sources close to the matter said the divestment order could come as early as next week, though one of the sources said the timing could still be pushed back.

But another report—this one published by Reuters on Tuesday—suggested that the order could actually come sooner than expected: A source with “direct knowledge of the matter” told the outlet that the European Commission’s mandate will arrive Thursday.

Whatever the timing, Illumina will reportedly appeal any order forcing it to sell Grail, according to the Financial Times’ sources.

Neither the regulators nor Illumina have publicly commented on the reports of the looming order.

The divestment order would deepen the punishment already handed down to Illumina in the EU. Over the summer, the EC’s antitrust watchdogs levied a fine of 432 million euros on the company, representing about 10% of Illumina’s annual revenues and easily setting a new record for the commission’s crackdowns.

Though Illumina had previously set aside $453 million to prepare for just such a charge, it said at the time that it still planned to appeal the fine.

The punishments come after Illumina jumped the gun in 2021 to plow ahead in its planned $8 billion acquisition of cancer blood test maker Grail before antitrust regulators in the U.S. and Europe had come to their final decisions about the deal.

A year after the brash buyout, in September 2022, the EC officially prohibited the acquisition. In its announcement at the time, the commission said the merger would stifle innovation in the realm of early cancer detection blood tests—and said that Illumina’s proposed concessions didn’t go far enough in assuaging their fears of a monopoly.

“In a race with other companies, Grail is developing a blood-based early cancer detection test. If successful, these tests will revolutionise our fight against cancer and help to save millions of lives,” said Margrethe Vestager, executive vice president in charge of the EC’s competition policy. “Illumina is currently the only credible supplier of a technology allowing to develop and process these tests. With this transaction, Illumina would have an incentive to cut off Grail’s rivals from accessing its technology, or otherwise disadvantage them.”

Illumina’s appeal of that decision is still pending.

Stateside, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) largely waited until the EU’s antitrust investigations were done last fall to kick their own into high gear. That resulted in yet another regulatory order, handed down in April of this year, that gave Illumina six months to completely divest its holdings in Grail—though, yet again, the company said it planned to appeal the FTC order.

Since then, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has also thrown its hat in the ring: Illumina disclosed in an August earnings report that the agency had alerted it a month prior to a newly launched probe of the fateful acquisition. The SEC has requested documents related to “the conduct and compensation of certain members of Illumina and Grail management, among other things,” per Illumina, which said it was cooperating with the investigation.