Pap Smear Industry: Lots of Money, Lots of Deals
Women's health has been a hot area for health care investors this year, and one of the most active segments of that field is automated Pap smear screening. In the past 12 months, four companies seeking to transform Pap smear screening have gone to public markets to raise money.
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The announcement of a merger between Digene, the maker of the only FDA-approved test for HPV, and Cytyc disappointed diagnostics giant Roche, Digene's European distributor. Roche had also contemplated a more strategic relationship with Digene. But it had a back-up plan. In June, it bought Institut Pasteur's HPV IP portfolio, which includes rights to some of Digene's markers. Now, Roche will go head to head with Digene in what may be one of the first significant battles between two molecular diagnostics platforms.
With its acquisition of Pro-Duct Health, Cytyc is hoping to transfer its very successful performance with the ThinPrep Pap Test to the field of ductal lavage for breast cancer risk assessment. Cytyc is paying $167.5 million for Pro-Duct, which has sales of less than $1 million. But Cytyc believes ductal lavage represents a multi-billion dollar opportunity with no direct competition. Physicians are excited about the procedure--although they caution a lot of data needs to be compiled to determine the utility of information provided by ductal lavage.
Having already collaborated with Millennium Pharmaceuticals to find marker candidates for its molecular oncology program, BD is now tapping TriPath Imaging to help build an imaging system to analyze the markers. Its strategy of relying on partners means it has to give up some profits, but BD is confident that the results will yield a value high enough to make the program economically feasible. It's a model that other companies are likely to emulate as they move into molecular diagnostics.