PRA makes another acquisition

dranii@newsobserver.comNovember 13, 2013 

Pharmaceutical services company PRA has bolstered its ability to test early-stage experimental drugs by agreeing to acquire a 250-employee company based in New Jersey.

The acquisition of privately held CRI Lifetree for an undisclosed sum would be the second business purchased by PRA since it in turn was acquired by the giant private equity firm KKR in July. The deal is expected to close within the next four weeks.

Raleigh-based PRA is a contract research organization, or CRO, that helps pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies test experimental drugs. It has more than 10,000 employees worldwide, including about 455 locally, and ranks as the world’s fourth-largest CRO.

Willem Jan Drijfhout, executive vice president and managing director of early development services, said PRA’s latest acquisition will thrust it to the forefront of CROs that conduct Phase I clinical trials – the first of three phases required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before it will consider approving a drug.

CRI specializes in early-stage studies of drugs that affect the central nervous system, including pain medications and treatments of psychiatric and neurological conditions. It also tests a drug’s potential for being abused, which is known as human abuse liability.

“No one in the world has done more human abuse liability studies than CRI Lifetree,” Drijfhout said. The FDA requires human abuse liability studies for all central-nervous-system drugs.

CRI has three Phase I clinics – in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City – with nearly 200 beds. Those clinics conduct studies of patients who stay for a few days or a few weeks while the study is being conducted.

Today PRA only has one Phase I clinic in the United States, along with three in Europe.

“It bolsters our U.S. presence,” Drijfhout said.

In July, KKR acquired ReSearch Pharmaceutical Services, a CRO with 4,000 employees in 64 countries, and merged it into PRA.

When asked about the possibility of further acquisitions, Drijfhout replied: “I think we’re always looking at opportunities that cross our path. But I think our focus is really now on integrating the businesses we have acquired.”

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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