Charles River Laboratories International has acquired ChanTest, a provider of ion channel testing services, for up-to-$54 million cash, in a deal the acquiring CRO said will enhance its ability to support its clients’ discovery and lead optimization work.

Charles River said it acquired ChanTest after concluding demand for its services was likely to increase in the near future. Charles River cited the growing importance of ion channels as targets for drug discovery as well as the development of the Comprehensive in vitro Proarrhythmia Assay (CiPA) early safety testing guidelines.

ChanTest can meet that expected increase in demand, according to Charles River, given its scientific expertise and its panel of more than 120 validated assays to test ion channels—a panel ChanTest says is the world’s most complete library of validated human ion channel-expressing cell lines, designed to serve the ion channel needs of biopharmas.

“ChanTest’s expertise will be invaluable to our clients as they comply with the expected implementation of new FDA guidelines for risk assessment and discover new therapies for diseases involving ion channels,” James C. Foster, Charles River’s chairman, president and CEO, said in a statement.

Charles River agreed to pay ChanTest $52 million upfront, and another $2 million in payments tied to unspecified “future performance” milestones. The acquisition is expected to be neutral to both the acquiring company’s revenue and earnings this year, and to add about 1% to Charles River’s revenue and be “moderately” accretive to earnings per share in 2015.

Headquartered in Cleveland, ChanTest was founded in 1998 by Arthur Brown, M.D., to help biopharma companies apply his discovery of the connection between ion channels and cardiac risk early in their drug development processes. The company says it has tested more than 30,000+ compounds for more than 300 global pharmaceutical and biotech companies since its inception.

CiPA will assess the effects of candidate drugs on the main sodium (Na+), calcium (Ca2+) and potassium (K+) cardiac ion channels. The ion channel data is incorporated into a computer model of the action potential (AP), designed to characterize or predict drug-induced changes in the cardiac AP simulations. The model’s findings would be verified by determining the electrical activity of human stem cell-derived ventricular cardiomyocytes.

According to an October 22 presentation by Douglas C. Throckmorton, M.D., deputy director for regulatory programs with FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, at least six drugs approved by the agency have been removed from the market due to arrhythmia risks. Since 2005, drug developers have sought to detect those risks via “Through QT” (TQT) studies, each of which costs a few million dollars to carry out—at a combined cost to industry of $1 billion. CiPA is designed as a lower-cost and quicker alternative that is less dependent on intact animal testing.

ChanTest is Charles River’s second acquisition in the past seven months. In March, Charles River bolstered its early drug discovery services by purchasing the CRO services division of Galapagos—including the Argenta and BioFocus businesses—for an up-to-€134 million (about $168.8 million).

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