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By Nancy Weil,
 IDG News Service

November 15, 2002 | Improved diagnostic tests for Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, and prostate cancer could be one promise of the collaboration announced in October between Celera Diagnostics and the Laboratory Corporation of America. The partnership also could yield quicker test results for doctors.

The deal gives LabCorp, based in Burlington, N.C., exclusive access to diagnostic markers discovered by Celera Diagnostics for those three diseases. As the tests are developed, LabCorp will offer input based on what its doctor-clients are saying they most want to see in diagnostic tests, and the exclusive access will allow them to sell Celera Diagnostics’ products to customers. Its extensive distributor network could be used for whatever tests the collaboration produces.

Based in Alameda, Calif., Celera Diagnostics is a joint venture between two Applera Corp. businesses -- Applied Biosystems and Celera Genomics. Financial terms of the Celera Diagnostics-LabCorp agreement were not disclosed.

Celera Diagnostics has been working on Alzheimer’s markers since April, and because that work is already under way, it could lead to results more quickly, says Kathy Ordoñez, president of both Celera Diagnostics and Celera Genomics and vice president of Applera. At press time, the company had not publicly discussed its breast cancer and prostate cancer studies but expected to offer details on those programs when it discussed its quarterly financial statement in late October.

How long it will take for the joint effort to lead to diagnostic tests used by health-care professionals is hard to estimate, Ordoñez says. “We cannot predict whether or not we will find markers,” she says. “We have a very strong belief  that there is a genetic basis for these diseases.”

LabCorp will offer feedback to Celera Diagnostics scientists as the tests are developed, which will lead to more robust tests that are easier for lab technicians to perform, Ordoñez says. “They are one of the largest laboratories in the world, and they have a tremendous skill base in genetic testing,” she says of LabCorp. “They have a very good understanding of what physicians and their patients want to see in a diagnostic test, which is a big advantage for our scientists here at Celera Diagnostics.”

As new tests are readied, LabCorp’s sales force will spread the word to doctors, which should speed the process of getting the diagnostics into use, Ordoñez says.

Pam Sherry, senior vice president for investor and public relations at LabCorp, says both companies will devote scientists and time to the effort.

Celera Diagnostics, which is focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of diagnostic products, also announced it has struck a deal with Quest Diagnostics Inc. of Teterboro, N.J., to collaborate on establishing the clinical utility of lab tests based on diagnostic markers for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. That deal will give Quest -- which, like LabCorp will provide diagnostic testing, information, and services -- exclusive access to markers found as part of the joint effort.

The collaborations are the first of their kind for Celera Diagnostics. That two major laboratories have chosen to work with Celera Diagnostics “underscores the confidence in molecular diagnostic medicine,” Ordoñez says, adding that she believes such work toward treating complex chronic diseases will lead to “a profound change in medicine in the coming years.”

Finally, Celera also inked a deal last month with Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), which will provide Celera with clinical samples and data to correlate genetic variability with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. BMS will get exclusive rights to develop drugs based on the joint work.

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