Paying the price for PCR

Qiagen buys Australia’s Corbett Life Sciences in deal that could eventually top $130 million

Chris Anderson
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VENLO, The Netherlands—In early July, Qiagen N.V. announced it had purchased Corbett Life Sciences, a Syndey Australia-based developer and distributor of life sciences instrumentation for $66 million in cash, $4 million in restricted Qiagen common stock and performance and development milestone payments and other contingencies of up to approximately $65 million over the next four years.

At the heart of the deal are Corbett's rotary real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) cycler system the Rotor-Gene and its accompanying CAS 1200 liquid handling system designed to automate the setup of quantitative real-time PCRs.

According to Ulrich Shriek, Qiagen's VP of corporate business development, the company has been looking for some time to either develop in-house, OEM or purchase outright, detection technologies to fill a gap in its line. Qiagen was already strong in developing reagents and assays for a number of different PCR tools including those of Corbett, a customer it picked up when it acquired molecular diagnostics assay company artus in 2005.

"We have perhaps 30 assays that were developed for use on Corbett's Rotor-Gene, similar to how we have developed assays for other companies," says Shriek, "but sometimes instead of an OEM or distribution agreement you need to own the technology. There is a real need for automation, especially in PCR, and the CAS 1200 provides that."
With the acquisition, Qiagen can now supply researchers with tools, assays and reagents for each of the three steps of molecular testing: sample preparation, assay setup, and now with the Rotor-Gene, detection.

While Qiagen was most intent on acquiring Corbett to be able to fulfill each of these three needs, it has also been pleasantly surprised by the penetration Corbett instruments have achieved in markets where Qiagen may not have a strong presence.

"We knew that Corbett had a stong presence in Asia," says Shriek. "What was a surprise was how they were selling to geographies that we didn't know had strong potential, like Arabian countries and South America."

The move to sell to Qiagen came as the Corbett family was looking to cash out of its successful 20-year-old company, which boast two separate facilities, each run by either John Corbett, Sr. or John Corbett, Jr. In some ways, selling to Qiagen represented a level of continuity for many Corbett customers.

"Many of our customers are Qiagen customers as well," says Corbett, Jr. "In addition, Qiagen's technology leadership in molecular sample and assay technologies, its global reach and extensive marketing, combined with strong relationships with researchers and leading laboratories around the world, bring exciting opportunities for Corbett.'"

Both Corbetts will stay on with Qiagen for the foreseeable future as consultants, primarily responsible for shepherding a handful of in-process R&D initiatives currently underway at the company. Other senior managers are expected to stay with the company. In addition, Qiagen also recently announced the appointment as general manager of Helga Lubenow, a Qiagen executive who has experience with past integrations. DDN

Chris Anderson

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