Quest Set to Acquire UMass Memorial Medical Center

Quest Diagnostics announced that it is purchasing the clinical outreach laboratory business of UMass Memorial Medical Center, the operator of one of New England’s largest academic diagnostic laboratories, for an undisclosed sum. According to Quest president and CEO, Steve Rusckowski, the two organizations plan to combine their resources to build a "lab of the future" that will provide high quality diagnostic testing at the lowest cost possible. Their intent is to create "better healthcare for patients and healthcare providers throughout Massachusetts," said Rusckowski. Once this facility is up and running, it will centralize the testing currently performed at Quest's full-service Cambridge, Mass., lab, its Athena Diagnostics specialty neurology testing subsidiary in Worcester, Mass., and UMass Memorial’s Worcester-based outreach laboratories. The transaction is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2013.

Oracle Joins WIN Consortium

Oracle Health Sciences has joined 24 academic institutions and industries as part of the Worldwide Innovative Network (WIN) in personalized cancer medicine consortium. This partnership will give WIN access to Oracle’s data management, clinical trials, genomics, and analytics expertise, and is expected to accelerate translational research, healthcare analytics, and health information exchange between research and healthcare organizations. In the past, technological obstacles have prevented much-needed teamwork among health science researchers, said John Mendelsohn, WIN chairman, adding that, "Oracle is helping organizations to break down these barriers and lay a foundation for expanded collaboration." The vice-chairman of WIN, Alexander Eggermont, added that Oracle’s technology is integral to helping the company analyze data that could lead to personalized cancer medicine discoveries.

Coventry Diagnostics, UK’s NHS Partner on Saliva Lead Toxicity Test

Coventry Diagnostics and the Health and Safety Laboratory of the UK’s National Health Service have partnered on a study aimed at confirming the efficacy of Coventry’s patented saliva-based lead toxicity test. With the use of inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, the test detects concentrations of lead in saliva as low as 0.5 ng/mL. It also has an "accuracy of greater than 94 percent for the major isotopes of lead," according to Coventry's director of research and development, Erica Guice, MS. She added that the ease of sample collection for this test is an additional improvement over whole-blood testing, which is the sole current method for monitoring lead toxicity worldwide. Coventry plans to commercialize the test in all industrialized countries, and the Health and Safety Laboratory has agreed in principle to co-market it in the UK.

Qiagen and Bayer Collaborate on Co-Diagnostics

Qiagen and Bayer HealthCare forged a deal to create and market companion diagnostics for novel Bayer drugs to treat various solid tumors. These co-diagnostics will run on the QIAsymphony family of automated instruments and will initially be "based on the identification of patients who may respond to therapies in clinically unmet disease classifications," said Helge Lubenow, PhD, senior vice president of the Molecular Diagnostics Business Area and member of Qiagen's Executive Committee. The agreement also provides a framework for Qiagen and Bayer to develop co-diagnostics outside of oncology.

VelaDx to Develop Assays for Life’s Ion PGM Sequencer

Life Technologies and Vela Diagnostics have forged a deal that will allow VelaDx to develop sequencing-based diagnostics on Life’s Ion Personal Genome Machine (PGM) platform. The Ion PGM Sequencer uses novel semiconductor technology that enables it to read nucleotides as sequences directly without first labeling them with dyes. This makes it possible for the Ion PGM to complete a sequencing run in 90 minutes. "Semiconductor sequencing is a transformative technology that can make diagnostic tests faster—a one-day turnaround," said Gregg Fergus, president and chief operating officer of Ion PGM-developer Ion
Torrent. In addition to its speed, the Ion PGM’s compatibility with Vela's Sentosa workflow system contributes to its suitability as a platform for Vela’s planned oncology and infectious diseases tests.

Life Technologies Buys Compendia Bioscience

Life Technologies announced the acquisition of cancer bioinformatics company Compendia Bioscience for an undisclosed sum. Using mutation profiles, gene expression data, and cellular biomarkers collected from more than 62,000 cancer patients, Compendia has created one of the world's most comprehensive libraries of cancer profiling data. The company's analytics tools, Oncomine and OncoScore, enable customers to use this data to optimize cancer drug discovery and the clinical trial process. Along with Life's other recent acquisitions, Navigenics and Pinpoint Genomics, Compendia will help the biotechnology firm to follow up on its lung cancer prognostic test, Pervenio Lung RS, and "develop and commercialize high-value cancer diagnostics where there is currently great unmet need," said Gregory T. Lucier, Life chairman and CEO. Life also plans to build on Compendia's standing with the pharmaceutical world to establish its own relationship with pharma.

Quest Restructures Firm, Lays Off Hundreds

Effective January 1, 2013, Quest Diagnostics will reorganize, replacing its current business structures with two new business units, Diagnostic Information Services and Diagnostic Solutions. The bulk of Quest's revenues will fall under the umbrella of Diagnostic Information Services.

Quest also plans to streamline further by cutting 400 to 600 management positions by the end of 2013, a move that will save approximately $65 million. These plans are part of a larger 3-year initiative to cut $500 million in costs and improve operational efficiency.

Van Andel and Emory Collaborate on Early Pancreatic Cancer Dx

The National Cancer Institute has granted $2.3 million to Van Andel Institute and Emory University researchers to fund development of clinical tests for the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Because most pancreatic tumors overexpress the carbohydrate structure called the CA 19-9 antigen, current pancreatic cancer tests use the presence of this glycan to confirm diagnosis and manage disease progression. However, approximately 20–30% of nascent tumors secrete low levels of CA 19-9, making it unreliable for early detection of the disease. Van Andel and Emory researchers will use gene expression studies on pancreatic tumor tissue to identify and characterize alternate glycans that are overproduced by pancreatic cancer patients who underproduce CA 19-9. They then aim to design tests around these carbohydrate structures for the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in patients with low CA 19-9 levels.

BD and Lab21 Partner on Oncology Assays

BD Diagnostics has teamed with Lab21 to create oncology assays for the BD MAX fully automated, bench-top molecular system. Their agreement stipulates that Lab21 will develop the assays while BD will manufacture and market them globally. The planned tests will involve polymerase chain reaction technology and will detect a series of oncology markers, starting with significant mutations in the KRAS and BRAF genes. "These assays will provide critical input to support oncologists and their patients in making more informed decisions about their care," said Tom Polen, president of BD. Additionally, the collaboration terms provide for the development of novel nucleic acid extraction procedures from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue.

LabCorp Inks License with Sequella For B-SMART Technology

Sequella licensed its B-SMART technology to LabCorp for development and commercialization of an antibiotic susceptibility test for Mycobacterium tuberculosis in the U.S. market. B-SMART’s nucleic acid-based technology will enable LabCorp to create assays that efficiently detect drug resistance in M. tuberculosis clinical isolates without knowledge of the resistance genotype. Sequella also will retain rights to market B-SMART technology in the U.S. for indications other than tuberculosis, and outside the U.S. for any indications, including tuberculosis.