Johnson & Johnson has exercised its acquisitive streak once again with an agreement to buy Animas, an insulin delivery company, for $518 million dollars in cash.

The transaction is further evidence of J&J’s ambition to build up its presence in medical devices, coming hard on the heels of the company’s $21.5 billion bid for Guidant which is being contested with Boston Scientific.

Animas makes insulin pump products, and if the acquisition goes through would operate as a stand-alone entity reporting through LifeScan, a J&J company offering blood glucose monitoring systems. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2006.

Eric Milledge, who heads up the LifeScan business at J&J, said: "Diabetes is a worldwide issue, growing at an alarming rate. The combination of Animas' insulin delivery systems and LifeScan's glucose monitoring systems will allow us to offer more comprehensive disease management solutions for our patients."

The annual worldwide market for conventional insulin pump products is approximately $2.65 billion dollars, and is tipped to grow strongly. There are an estimated 400,000 insulin pump users at present, and their number is growing by 12% to 14% a year, as a result of the increasing numbers of people diagnosed with diabetes, a recognition that pump therapy is highly effective in maintaining blood glucose control and the development of smaller, more patient friendly devices.

In the UK, for example, the number of insulin pump users has seen a dramatic increase with the release of new guidance in 2003 from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommending the funding of insulin pump therapy by the National Health Service.

Other companies operating in the insulin pump space include Medtronic with its MiniMed brand, Smiths Medical and Roche Disetronic.