Clinical research company PRA International closed its acquisition of Indian company Sterling Synergy Systems yesterday, shortly after reporting a steep decline in profits on the back of delays and cancellations for key projects.

The acquisition of Sterling will give PRA a foothold in the fast-growing Indian market for clinical research, which is currently valued at around $100 million but could accelerate to reach more than a billion dollars a year by 2010, according to market research firm Proximaire.

"This acquisition establishes a solid foundation for PRA in India and greatly increases our access to clinical sites, investigators and patients," said PRA’s president and chief executive Pat Donnelly.

"We are already building out our infrastructure and actively recruiting additional clinical operations and data management staff to expand our presence in the country."

India is emerging as a hub for clinical research, mainly because of the prevalence of treatment-naive patients who do not require earlier treatment regimes to be washed out, or who might be excluded from a study, but also because the cost of running trials tends to be lower and patient recruitment is easier as patients there often have limited access to medication and are keen to participate.

The move also serves to reduce PRA’s reliance on the biotechnology sector, which accounts for more than half of its turnover, as Sterling has concentrated mainly on the conventional pharmaceutical sector. The Indian CRO also has strong capabilities in oncology, one of PRA’s core areas of expertise, as it operates as the preferred CRO for the Indian Cooperative Oncology Network.

In addition, the incorporation of Sterling’s data management center in Pune will allow Sterling to provide around-the-clock data management capabilities, something that is increasingly being asked for by pharmaceutical companies.

Being able to offer 24-hour data management means that cycle times are reduced, and databases can be locked more quickly. PRA claims to be one of only a handful of CROs that can provide this level of data management service.

PRA’s acquisition of Sterling-Synergy is only the latest in a series of moves by Western companies to expand their presence in India. ICON Clinical Research recently bought data management and biometrics firm Biomines Research Solutions, while SFBC snapped up Pharmanet, focusing on data management and biostatistics, and just last year Icelandic firm Actavis bought Lotus Laboratories. At the same time, the big Western CROs – including Covance, Parexel, Chiltern and Quintiles – have already set up or plan to open facilities in India.

Meanwhile, some of the larger Indian CROs are also starting to eye up opportunities overseas themselves. Last October, Jubilant Organosys acquired US company Target Research Associates for $33.5 million, the first time that an Indian company has bought a US CRO.