US-based contract research organisation (CRO) Covance has raised its game significantly in the biomarker space with the acquisition of a minority stake in proteomics specialist Caprion and plans to establish a Biomarker Center of Excellence at the company’s US campus in Greenfield, Indiana.

No financial details were disclosed on the equity stake in Caprion Proteomics, a privately held Canadian company that provides proteomics-based services to the pharmaceutical industry. Under an agreement between the two partners, Covance will serve as the exclusive CRO distributor of Caprion’s proteomic biomarker services and Caprion as Covance’s exclusive proteomic discovery provider.

“The combination of Caprion’s distinctive capabilities for proteomic biomarker discovery, verification, and validation, with Covance’s leading research services platform, will offer pharmaceutical and biotechnology customers a distinctive, innovative, and fully-integrated biomarker solution across the entire drug development continuum – from early proof of concept through late-stage clinical trials and post-marketing surveillance,” Caprion said.

As Covance pointed out, pharmaceutical companies are now adopting biomarker strategies for “the vast majority” of new drug candidates. Within 10 years, biomarkers are expected to be a standard component of drug development “for any novel candidate”, the CRO commented, adding: “In fact, the US FDA’s [Food and Drug Administration] 2006 Critical Path Initiative listed biomarkers as one of the two areas with the greatest impact on modernising drug development and approval”.

Based in Montreal, Caprion has been offering biomarker and target identification services since 2002, conducting more than 30 large-scale biomarker projects for pharmaceutical industry clients such as Pfizer, Daiichi-Sankyo, AstraZeneca and Boehringer Ingelheim. The company’s proprietary proteomics discovery platform, CellCarta, is a gel-free, label-free mass spectrometry technology that enables “comprehensive, quantitative and robust” measurement of protein expression differences across large sets of biological samples, Caprion explained.

Covance’s planned Center of Excellence in Greenfield, which will “further accelerate and support” the growth of the CRO’s biomarker business, will focus on biomarker testing and validation while leveraging both Caprion’s discovery support services and existing operations at the US campus. These latter include in vivo preclinical safety and efficacy assessment as well as “a variety of sophisticated preclinical imaging modalities”, Covance noted.

Combining all of this with the CRO’s “extensive” resources in first-in-human trials, clinical Phase II proof-of-concept studies and pivotal Phase III trials, as well as its post-marketing and central laboratory services, gives clients access to “the most comprehensive integrated biomarker capabilities in the industry”, Covance claimed.

To help steer these developments, the CRO has appointed Dr Thomas Turi as its vice president of biomarkers. Dr Turi will be responsible for building up the Center of Excellence for Biomarkers and will head up Covance’s Biomarker Expert Team, a panel of top scientists representing the company’s biomarker capabilities.

He joins Covance from Pfizer, with more than 14 years’ experience of leading drug discovery projects ranging from exploratory to early development programmes. Most recently Dr Turi was senior director of translational biomarkers and mechanistic biology at Pfizer’s laboratories in Groton, Connecticut.