Life Technologies to sell off line of virus tests

November 13, 1990|By Timothy J. Mullaney

Life Technologies Inc. of Gaithersburg said yesterday it will sell a line of diagnostic products designed to find the human papilloma virus to Digene Diagnostics Inc. of Silver Spring for an undisclosed price.

Casimir P. Eitner, Life Technologies vice president, said the move is the partial fulfillment of a promise earlier this year that the company would leave the diagnostic-products business.

The product line, which detects a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer, had commanded Life Technologies' biggest investment in diagnostic products. The test is similar to a Pap test, commonly used to detect cervical cancer, but can detect the papilloma virus before it causes cell damage that can lead to cancer.

"We're pleased with the total deal," Mr. Eitner said. "The buyer is a local company, meaning that the transition will be smooth. There's a good strong fit. And Digene is very interested in the people involved." He said Life Technologies will recover its investment in papilloma virus diagnostics through the sale but wouldn't give further details.

Gary Sams, vice president of marketing and sales for Digene, said the acquisition complements Digene's existing business in DNA probe-based diagnostic products. He said technologies that allow researchers to analyze the DNA within cells that are still intact, such as DNA probes, give more information than tests that require that cells be broken apart.

"This is an ongoing part of our strategy to develop DNA-based tests for a variety of diseases," Mr. Sams said. "We're a company that has been involved in the development of DNA-based diagnostics for five years."

Mr. Sams said Digene didn't buy Life Technologies' other diagnostic businesses because they use different technologies that are outside Digene's specialization. Mr. Eitner said those businesses are still for sale.

Mr. Sams said the transaction announced yesterday is expected to be completed by the end of the year. He said the deal will roughly double the size of the work force at Digene, which currently has about 30 employees.

He said Digene plans to make job offers to all of the Life Technologies employees who work on the product line sold yesterday. Mr. Eitner said most of the workers are technically-oriented manufacturing workers and researchers.

Tom Taylor, an analyst for Chesapeake Securities Inc. in Towson, said the diagnostics business has been a drag on the earnings of Life Technologies. The sale is a positive move for the Gaithersburg company, he said.

"If they focus in on their basic businesses, they can do quite well," Mr. Taylor said.

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