Novella Clinical, the contract research organisation (CRO) created from PharmaLinkFHI’s acquisition of Matrix Contract Research in September 2008, has beefed up its oncology franchise by taking over fellow US-based CRO Prologue Research International.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Founded in 1998, Prologue offers a full range of research services for Phase I-IV clinical trials, but focused exclusively on cancer drug development.

Richard Staub, Novella Clinical’s president and chief executive officer (CEO), said the acquisition would strengthen the company’s oncology therapeutic franchise and was a “strategic addition” to the clinical services agreement signed earlier this year with OSI Pharmaceuticals.

OSI discovers, develops and commercialises targeted medicines for cancer and diabetes/obesity. In January, Novella and OSI expanded their existing clinical services agreement so that Novella would provide clinical research and related services to OSI for a two-year period while the latter transferred its clinical operations to a consolidated US site in Ardsley, New York.

With the acquisition of Prologue, Novella will create a dedicated business unit focused exclusively on oncology drug development, Staub noted. The deal will add some 60 staff to Novella’s global base of 738 professionals, as well as a US office in Columbus, Ohio, where Prologue has its international headquarters. Novella’s headquarters are in Durham, North Carolina.

As Staub pointed out, Prologue’s experience includes managing more than 120 oncology trials across a wide variety of indications and serving a customer base that does not overlap with Novella’s.

Tom Ludlam, president and CEO of Prologue Research International, said combining with Novella’s oncology team, infrastructure and e-based technology “allows us to better serve current and future customers in the design and execution of complex oncology programmes across geographic regions”.

Troubled US-based CRO Encorium announced a non-binding letter of intent to acquire Prologue in June 2008. However, it subsequently postponed negotiations on the deal and eventually settled for a strategic partnership.

Prologue was originally set up in 1998 as a not-for-profit CRO focused exclusively on oncology trials, with support from the James Cancer Hospital/Solove Research Centre at Ohio State University. Prologue was subsequently restructured to operate independently from the University and in mid-2004 it became a private, for-profit business as a means of enhancing access to capital.