Asterand and Pharmagene join to form dominant tissue-based CRO

By Kirsty Barnes

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pharmaceutical industry

UK's Pharmagene has joined forces with US company Asterand to form
a human tissue supply and research services company that will
dominate the pharma industry. The merger, which was finalised last
week, will also solidify Pharmagene's previously cash-strapped

The enlarged group, also called >Asterand,​ now has an extended tissue supply network of over 70 sites in the US, the UK and Western and Eastern Europe, as well as a biorepository of approximately 300,000 samples, making it the largest contract research organisation (CRO) of its kind in the world.

In addition, the new company now has a combined client base of over 70 pharmaceutical and biotech companies, serviced by an international sales and marketing organisation.

Over the past few years, the sequencing of the human genome has substantially expanded the application of, and increased the demand for, human tissue for research purposes and the merger of these two companies well positions them to benefit from that growth.

"The international network for human tissue supply developed by Asterand, combined with Pharmagene's expertise in human tissue based research services, will enable us to provide a comprehensive supply and service package to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries,"​ said Randal Charlton, chief executive of Asterand.

In the past, Pharmagene was a CRO that conducted human tissue based drug discovery both for its own in-house drug development purposes, and on an outsourcing basis to the pharma industry.

However, shortly prior to the merger Pharmagene decided to change its business model to a more financially viable one, focusing solely on contract research services. A merger that allowed an expansion of these services was the next logical move for the company.

For Asterand, already the world's market leader in human tissue supply and services, the merger now enables a diversification of services and expertise in the field as until now, the company's tissue services primarily focused on disease specific areas, especially oncology, and were obtained from live patients during surgical procedures.

Pharmagene brings Asterand new research areas that focus on different diseased tissues, as well as normal tissues obtained from cadaevers, and the enlarged Asterand now plans to strengthen its services in these areas, Dr James Eliason, Chief Scientific Officer, Asterand, told

The merger also brings increased access to new tissue collecting sites and a greater variety of tissue samples, which is of extreme value, as to open new tissue collecting sites can be a very costly and timely process, said Eliason.

In addition, collecting human tissues for research purposes is a delicate task requiring the prior, informed, and free consent of the donor and their family. All research protocols must also undergo a rigorous ethical evaluation by an Institutional Review Board before any sample is obtained.

Because of the intricacies involved, pharma companies almost always outsource their tissue collection.

However, because of the same intricacies, the human tissue supply and services industry is a niche field, which has also been experiencing a period of consolidation, with only a few such companies still active throughout the world.

Last year, Genomics Collaborative was bought by blood derivatives firm, Sercare, and another company, Ardais, recently went bust due to a failed business model based upon a combination of drug target discovery and tissue supply services, similar to the one employed by Pharmagene before it decided to change course.

Interestingly though, unlike other contract research organisations (CROs) that are coming under increasing pressure from cost-cutting competitors based in China and India, Eliason expects that this niche industry will not be affected for the time being, due to the high ethical standards required for tissue supplies.

Although, he did note that recently there has been some movement towards competition in the field coming from the Russia. In addition, India and China are beginning to lift their pharmaceutical industry standards to meet international levels, said Eliason.

Related topics: Preclinical Research, Preclinical

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