US-based contract research organisation (CRO) Covance is pushing further into the increasingly indispensable biomarker space by signing a biomarker alliance and services agreement with testing laboratory Rules-Based Medicine (RBM).

Under the agreement, Covance will use RBM as an exclusive third-party provider of multiplexed protein biomarker testing services, while serving as RBM’s exclusive referral source for laboratory testing services.

The CRO recently set up a Biomarker Center of Excellence in Greenfield, India. It has also entered into a series of acquisitions and alliances in the genomics, proteomics and biomarker testing fields that “will enable us to provide our clients with the largest and most integrated biomarker capability in the CRO industry”, Covance claims.

In July, for example, the company signed an agreement with Merck & Co for the supply of genomic analysis services that included acquiring Merck’s Gene Expression Laboratory in Seattle, US. For its part, Merck committed to a five-year, US$145 million contract to purchase genomic analysis services from Covance.

And last December, Covance raised its game significantly in the biomarker sector by taking a minority stake in Canadian proteomics specialist Caprion.

Under that agreement, Covance acts as the exclusive CRO distributor for Caprion’s proteomic biomarker services and Caprion as Covance’s exclusive proteomic discovery provider. At the time, Covance said biomarkers were expected to be a standard component of drug development “for any novel candidate” within 10 years.

In December the CRO also appointed Dr Thomas Turi as its vice president of biomarkers, responsible for building up the Center of Excellence for Biomarkers and leading Covance’s Biomarker Expert Team, a panel of top scientists representing the company’s biomarker capabilities.

Of the latest deal, Turi commented: “This new alliance with RBM, combined with our purchase of Merck’s gene expression laboratory in Seattle, Washington, and the purchase of a minority equity stake in Caprion Proteomics, rounds out our comprehensive biomarker offering”.

Headquartered in San Diego, US, RBM uses its proprietary Multi-Analyte Profiling (MAP) platform to enhance the efficiency of drug discovery and development by supplying preclinical and clinical researchers with reproducible, quantitative, multiplexed immunoassay data for hundreds of proteins from small sample volumes.

Typically, customers will use a large immunoassay MAP, such as DiscoveryMAP, in early clinical research and, as the project matures, will select patient stratification, safety and efficacy biomarkers to create a targeted panel, or CustomMAP, suitable for use in late-stage trials.

“RBM’s quantitative platform, combining biomarker discovery, validation and sample processing, is optimised to support clinical trials,” said Deborah Tanner, corporate senior vice president and president of Covance Central Laboratory Services.

“This innovative technology from RBM, along with Covance’s other biomarker capabilities, are critical tools for drug safety and efficacy testing that can help our clients make better decisions earlier in drug development and accelerate their drug development programmes.”