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New Companion Diagnostics Lab Extends Covance’s Precision Medicine Reach

By Barry Teater, NCBiotech writer

Covance scientist observes genotyping assays. -- LabCorp photos

Covance Drug Development, a global contract research organization that was acquired by Burlington-based LabCorp two years ago, has opened a new companion diagnostics laboratory in Morrisville to extend its capabilities in precision medicine.

“Precision medicine presents tremendous opportunities for achieving improved patient outcomes, particularly in the use of targeted therapies and immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, with expansion into other therapeutic areas and rare diseases,” David P. King, chairman and CEO of LabCorp, said in a news release.

“By capitalizing on the combined strength of our diagnostics and drug development capabilities, LabCorp is uniquely positioned to guide the delivery of care by helping physicians provide patients with the right drug, at the right time and in the right dosage.”

The lab, an upfit of existing space, is part of a multi-use facility that encompasses about 37,000 square feet. The lab accounts for about 60 percent of that space, said Sue Maynard, LabCorp’s vice president of corporate communications. 

The facility includes a genomics and molecular pathology laboratory to support clinical trials and diagnostic assay development, as well as a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) laboratory. The NMR lab houses the first NMR spectrometer approved by the FDA to identify and quantify concentrations of lipoproteins and small-molecule metabolites. 

The site also houses manufacturing facilities for diagnostics materials and testing components.

Covance scientist retrieves stained slides for analysis.

“At this facility we are incorporating advanced tools such as next-generation sequencing and gene expression technologies, allowing us to evaluate multiple analytes or targets related to the biology of the disease and the specific therapeutic approach as we develop the next generation of companion diagnostics,” said Steve Anderson, Ph.D., chief scientific officer of Covance. “That is the future direction of precision medicine, and we are ready to deliver the most advanced approach to ensure success for our clients.”

The lab employs about 25 people dedicated to companion diagnostics development, Maynard said. 

Companion diagnostics are tests used in tandem with targeted drugs and therapies to identify patients who are likely to benefit from a specific treatment regimen or who may have increased risk for certain side effects.

Over the last 20 years Covance and LabCorp have been involved in the development of about three-quarters of the companion diagnostics on the market today. In 2016 alone, they participated in more than 60 companion diagnostic programs supporting 145 clinical protocols, LabCorp said.

“Covance offers its clients an efficient, comprehensive development pathway for a novel therapy in conjunction with its associated companion diagnostic, from discovery and early development through clinical trials and regulatory approval,” said John Ratliff, CEO of Covance. “Once approved, LabCorp can commercialize the test, allowing doctors to identify the patients best suited for the treatment with greater precision. Our seamless approach can reduce costs for the client and shorten the time to availability for patients.”

LabCorp closed on the purchase of Covance in February 2015 in a cash-and-stock deal worth about $6.2 billion.

LabCorp is a global life sciences company that provides comprehensive clinical laboratory and end-to-end drug development services. It reported net revenues of nearly $9.5 billion for 2016. The company has about 52,000 employees in about 60 countries.

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