In another sally by private equity into the fast-growing contract research sector, Gryphon Investors, a San Francisco, US-based firm that focuses on middle-market companies with sales of US$25 million to US$250 million, has announced the simultaneous recapitalisation of two US suppliers of clinical trial services to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.

The injection of funds into Synteract, a contract research organisation (CRO) with specific expertise in oncology and central nervous system (CNS) drugs, and Vince & Associates Clinical Research (VNS), a leading provider of trial site services whose speciality is CNS studies and sleep disorders research, was done in partnership with the companies’ management and with Celerity Partners, which previously invested in Synteract in June 2006 and VNA in November 2007.

Gryphon favours investment opportunities where it can form proactive relationships with the target companies’ owners and executives. As such, the management of Synteract and VNA will remain in place and become “meaningful shareholders” in Synteract Corporation, a newly created holding company that will own both businesses, Gryphon noted. Celerity will also keep its interest in the two CROs through Synteract Corporation. No further terms of the deal were disclosed.

Founded in 1995 and based in Carlsbad, California, Synteract is a full-service CRO, mainly for Phase I-III clinical trials in the US and international markets. The company recently opened an office in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park to support its US East Coast and international clients.

VNA was set up in 2001 and has its headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas. It conducts Phase I-IV trials in a variety of therapeutic areas, with particular emphasis on recruiting challenging patient populations. The CRO recently bolstered its early-stage capabilities by opening a dedicated 50-bed Phase I facility in the Kansas City area.

Ellen Morgan, chief executive officer of Synteract, said the company was looking forward to expanding its relationship with VNA in the future, particularly for CNS trials.

According to Nick Orum, head of Gryphon’s Business Services Group, the investment in Synteract and VNS was the culmination of a “year-long effort … to become an active participant in the dynamic, growing field of outsourced drug development services”. Both companies “are true leaders in their speciality areas, delivering valuable, highly differentiated services to their customers”, he added.