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Of a giant and a gnome
November 2012
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author


SAN DIEGO—In support of its goals in diagnostics and a desire to enhance its position in the areas of reproductive health and cancer, life-science tools and integrated systems powerhouse Illumina Inc. acquired Cambridge, U.K.-based BlueGnome Ltd. for an undisclosed sum.
With the mid- September acquisition, BlueGnome—a leading provider of solutions for the screening of genetic abnormalities associated with developmental delay, cancer and infertility—is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Illumina.

In collaboration with some of the world's leading in-vitro fertilization (IVF) centers, Illumina notes, BlueGnome developed 24sure, a pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS) test for counting the chromosomes in a single human cell. This is a test said to hold enormous promise for increasing IVF success rates, with clinical data showing PGS greatly both increases pregnancy rates and reduces miscarriages.

BlueGnome's offerings also include CytoChip, a powerful test for the investigation of genetic abnormalities mainly associated with developmental delay or with complex leukemias. CytoChip is used by more than 200 labs across 40 countries worldwide as a first-line cytogenetic test, replacing traditional G-band karyotyping, according to Illumina and BlueGnome.

"The BlueGnome acquisition supports Illumina's goal to be the leader in genomic-based diagnostics and enhances the company's ability to establish integrated solutions in reproductive health and cancer," said Jay Flatley, president and CEO of Illumina, in the news release about the deal. "BlueGnome is the leader in the rapidly growing IVF market and is well known for their software and comprehensive assay workflows."

Illumina has been working in the area of cytogenetics for a while and had its own cytogenetic array, Greg Heath, senior vice president and general manager of Illumina's diagnostics business, tells ddn. The company started hearing more and more about BlueGnome's software through feedback from their own customers and other avenues, and found the functionality it offered very intriguing.

"We were already familiar with them, when we finally got a chance to meet directly at a conference a couple years ago," Heath recalls. "We started discussions about possible collaboration down the line and both they and we were really interested in going that route. We never did have an opportunity to team up on anything, but because we really liked what we saw, we decided more recently to take the positive impressions from our earlier talks and just move forward to acquire BlueGnome."

It was about four years ago that Illumina established its diagnostics business, Heath notes, and he says one of the first things the company did was map out areas where Illumina's technology would have significant advantages—and one of those areas was in genetics.

"To point a finer point on it, we saw a lot of potential in reproductive genetics," Heath explains, "and BlueGnome has the cytogenetic side, the PGS side and also pre-implantation genetic diagnostics—or PGD. We think the reproduction genetic testing and diagnostics market is going to take off, and there's pretty low penetration right now. We have the technology and this is good timing to add BlueGnome to our operations."
Heath also notes that beyond BlueGnome's strong software capabilities, the company is also well-established in clinical trials and cytogenetics labs, which means it has commercial outlets into which Illumina can tap, making it "a nice commercial fit as well as a good technological fit."

"By joining forces with Illumina, we will be able to leverage the industry's leading microarray and sequencing platforms for our next-generation products," said Nick Haan, president and CEO of BlueGnome, in the news release about the deal. "The throughput and data quality of Illumina's sequencers enable us to consider revolutionary new approaches to genetic testing."

Haan and BlueGnome co-founder Graham Snudden will continue to lead BlueGnome, according to Illumina, and they will report to Heath. In addition to its headquarters in England, BlueGnome—which spun out as an independent company from the University of Cambridge in 2002—has offices in Fairfax, Va., and Singapore.

Code: E111218



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