The corporate parent of contract research organization (CRO) Chiltern bought MDS Pharma's central labs. Last week, private investment group Czura Thornton agreed to pay $8 million for the labs and an additional $4 million later if performance thresholds are met.

The sale is part of Canadian conglomerate MDS Inc.'s continued selling of clinical assets, including MDS Pharma Services. In June, Inc. Research bought MDS Pharma's late-stage operations for $50 million, closing the deal in July. (Here's our story on that.)

At the same time, MDS said it would also like to find a buyer for its central labs. In September, MDS announced its intentions to sell off its early-stage division (discovery through Phase IIa clinical proof-of-concept studies. (Here's our story on that.) Once the central labs sale goes through, all that will be left of MDS Pharma's holdings will be its early-stage operations.

Global Footprint

“We're shedding non-core assets,” explains MDS Pharma president David Spaight. When the central-labs sale is final, Czura Thornton—owners of UK-based Chiltern since July of 2006—will have 600 new employees spread across six sites in Europe, North America and Asia. Lab services include molecular screening, profiling, drug safety assessment, bioanalysis, and late-stage laboratory services like data management, site support and international laboratory study coordination. The labs' proprietary central lab protocol management system, Apollo CLPM, comes along as part of the deal.

These will be the first central-lab holdings for the five-year-old Czura Thornton. The labs will work with Chiltern, but not exclusively. “The central labs will be a sister company to Chiltern, not a daughter,” says Nick Thornton, one of the company's founders, along with Antony Czura. He added that the labs will soon have a new name.

The six central labs are in North Brunswick, N.J. (the newest lab, just two years old); Mississaugua, Canada, outside Toronto; Singapore; Beijing; Baillet en France, just outside Paris (a 15-year-old lab); Hamburg, Germany (also 15 years old).

Personal Style

MDS points out that the transaction will not include bioanalysis operations at MDS's facilities in Lincoln, Nebraska; Lyon, France; Montreal, Canada; and Zurich, Switzerland. Those facilities are considered part of MDS Pharma's early-stage operations, the company said.

Czura Thornton has holdings in the life sciences, property and transportation sectors. But Thornton says he and Czura don't think of their firm as a big, impersonal investment company. “We do not consider ourselves as typical private equity players,” he told ClinPage. “We use a substantial amount of our own funds in each transaction and work with a trusted pool of typically repeat investors.”

MDS Pharma's remaining early-stage holdings include about 1,000 beds in Europe and North America, and about 1,700 employees at 10 facilities in six countries in Asia, Europe and North America, along with an auxiliary office in Tokyo.

Is a sale of MDS Pharma's early-stage holdings close? Doesn't sound like it. “We continue to talk to interested buyers and look for someone who's capable of investing in and building on the foundation we've established,” said Spaight.

by Suz Redfearn