Clinical research organisation PRA International has agreed to buy Indian company Sterling Synergy Systems in its first foray into the subcontinent.

The terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but it is expected to close in the second quarter, according to PRA, which said its clinical operations in India will be based out of Mumbai while the Pune facility will house a data management center. Sterling Synergy Systems was set up in 2001 and specialises in Phase II-IV clinical trials.

"By extending our geographic footprint into India we are greatly increasing our access to clinical sites and patients, as well as establishing a highly efficient data management platform to accommodate the global requirements of our clients," says Pat Donnelly, PRA's president and chief executive, in a statement.

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 country’s clinical trials market, valued at around $100 million at present, has been predicted to explode and reach more than $1 billion by 2010, according to pharmaceutical consulting firm Proximaire.

PRA made the announcement on the same day as it posted first quarter results and slashed its 2006 financial forecasts, blaming a cancelled clinical programme and delayed contracts.

The company had revenue of $76.6 million in the first quarter, down from $81.5 million a year earlier, while net income also fell 13% to $6.1 million.

The company said it now expects to achieve service revenues of $290-$310 million in 2006 as a whole, down from the $325-$330 million it was predicting after publishing its fourth-quarter 2005 results.