Czura Thornton, the private investment group that owns UK-based contract research organisation (CRO) Chiltern International, has agreed to acquire the global central laboratory operations of MDS, the Canadian life sciences company now scaling down to focus on its medical isotopes business.

Proceeds from the sale of the Central Labs operation to Jersey-based Czura Thornton are expected to be increase by up to US$4 million if Central Labs achieves certain performance thresholds after the deal has closed.

Central Labs is part of MDS Pharma Services, the US-based contract research unit that has suffered from recession effects in the CRO sector as well the reverberations of US concerns over bioequivalence studies conducted at two of the company’s facilities in Quebec, Canada.

In June MDS divested the business’ Phase II-IV operations to INC Research for US$50 million and said it was putting the Central Labs arm up for sale, narrowing the CRO’s scope to discovery research through to Phase IIa clinical trials.

In September, though, MDS announced it was seeking a buyer for the rest of MDS Pharma Services and would pare down its life sciences business to the MDS Nordion medical isotopes operation.

According to Czura Thornton, there are “excellent opportunities” for collaboration between Central Labs and Chiltern, and the two businesses will co-operate closely while remaining separate entities. The MDS central laboratories operation will also be rebranded shortly.

The business has more than 600 employees at accredited sites in Beijing (China), Hamburg (Germany), North Brunswick (US), Paris (France), Toronto (Canada) and Singapore. It provides a wide range of late-stage laboratory and electrocardiogram services to support clinical trials worldwide, including standardised assays, integrated data management, international laboratory study co-ordination and site support.

The MDS Pharma Services assets also include the proprietary Apollo CLPM (Central Lab Protocol Management) system, which offers clients real-time access to study data from around the world.

The planned sale is expected to close in the fourth quarter of calendar 2009, subject to the customary approvals and conditions as well as review and consultation with the relevant works councils in France and Germany.

“We intend to build and strengthen the Central Lab business,” commented Czura Thornton co-founder Nick Thornton. “We believe the business’s international platform, world-class facilities and highly skilled people will enhance our strong client relationships.”