US contract research organisation PRA International has bolstered its offering in early stage clinical trials and laboratory testing with the acquisition of Netherlands-based Pharma Bio-Research in a transaction valued at around 85 million euros.

The deal, which is due to close in the third quarter of 2006, gives PRA an immediate presence on the Phase I/Phase IIa trial sector in Europe, as well as a position in so-called ‘complex’ trials, one of the fastest-growing sectors in the contract clinical research market.

PBR operates two clinical trial centres with a total of 140 beds, due to expand to almost 170 beds by the end of the year, ‘making it one of the largest full-service Phase I/IIa CROs in Europe’, according to Pat Donnelly, PRA’s chief executive.

On a conference call, Donnelly noted that PRA has a history of growing its business through acquisitions – the company has just pocketed CRO Sterling-Synergy to get a foothold in the emerging market for clinical research in India – and PBR augmented the company both geographically and in terms of expertise.

The acquisition also provides PRA with a laboratory business, accounting for around 25% of PBR’s approximately 40 million euro turnover last year, which will be expanded and replicated in the USA. This business provides advanced bioanalytical and data management services.

PRA's existing Phase I operations in Lenexa, Kansas, will be combined with PBR's business, centred at sites in Zuidlaren and Groningen, to provide a ‘comprehensive’ early development phase service in both the USA and Europe, he said.

“We can now provide high-end, first-in-man trials,” Donnelly told analysts and reporters, and this means that PRA can interact with clients earlier in the development progress of drugs than it has done to date.

“We believe you need facilities on both sides of the Atlantic to be successful,” he said, noting that PRA has “never seen more volume [in Phase I trials] as we see right now,” and bringing the European sites into the PRA fold will help it capitalize on the current healthy operating environment.

Last year, 55% of PBR’s business came from European clients, with around 32% from North America and 13% in Japan. The Dutch company specialises in metabolism studies (44% of its workload), as well as central nervous system (22%), immunology (17%) and respiratory studies (13%).

Dr. Willem Jan Drijfhout, PBR's chief scientific officer, will join PRA as senior vice president of early developmental services with responsibility for all early phase development and bioanalytical lab work.