Illumina accuses FTC of exhausting offer to acquire Grail

The Federal Trade Commission’s ongoing feud with Illumina over its $ 7.1 billion bid to acquire cancer diagnostics company Grail has taken a different turn with the FTC asking a San Diego judge to dismiss the claim. the agency’s own request for an injunction hearing.

The federal agency filed a preliminary injunction lawsuit in late March to prevent Illumina from completing the acquisition until a judge decides whether the deal violates antitrust laws. But last week, the federal agency announced it was no longer seeking an injunction now that the European Union is also investigating the Illumina-Grail deal.

“At the time, a district court order was needed to prevent the parties from finalizing their merger,” Maribeth Petrizziin, acting director of the FTC’s competition bureau, said in a statement. declaration. “Now that the European Commission is investigating, Illumina and GRAIL cannot proceed with the transaction without obtaining clearance from the European Commission.”

The FTC is asking a judge to dismiss his injunction petition without preventing the agency from filing another such petition in the future. It’s a condition that Illumina’s legal team will not agree to, noting that the FTC could kill the acquisition by filing another injunction in a few months and that the agreement will expire on September 20 if it. is not extended.

In documents filed Wednesday, Illumina’s attorneys wrote that, if successful, the FTC’s request would put the agency “in a position to effectively block a pro-competitive and vital combination, whatever its merits, simply running out of time. This tactic has no place in a fair process.

The company’s legal team also took issue with the FTC’s schedule. The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, has announced its intention to review the Illumina-Grail agreement on April 20. So why did the agency wait a month to file its motion to dismiss the injunction hearing? The answer, according to lawyers for the company, is that the FTC wanted to take advantage of a temporary injunction on the deal before dropping an injunction request that it knew it couldn’t win.

Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo of the Southern District of California will have the final say on the matter. At 3 p.m. on Friday, Bencivengo will hold a hearing at the FTC’s request.

The controversial back-and-forth revolves around a pressing question: What is the best way to provide patients with life-saving early detection tests for cancer?

Illumina, San Diego’s largest biotech company and a sequencing giant, believes the solution is to allow it to acquire Grail. The deal, announced last September, was touted as a homecoming, as Grail parted ways with Illumina in 2016. Since then, Grail has raised more than $ 2 billion, including from backers notables such as Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates.

This influx of money was fueled by the potential of the Galleri test, which can detect 50 types of cancer from a blood sample. Tumors release small pieces of DNA that appear in the blood; the company’s test identifies chemical changes in DNA that reveal a person has cancer and reveal where that tumor is.

The Menlo Park company’s test is already available as a lab-developed test for $ 949. Illumina believes it can help get the test approved by the Food and Drug Administration and expand its use, potentially preventing 100,000 cancer-related deaths per year.

But the bipartite The FTC voted 4-0 in March oppose the acquisition. The agency says that because Grail’s competitors rely on Illumina’s sequencing equipment for the tests they develop, the company could easily stifle competition by raising prices and not offering them certain services. . And preserving competition, argues the FTC, is the real key to making early cancer testing accessible and affordable, maximizing the number of lives saved.

An administrative trial scheduled to begin August 24 in Washington, DC will examine the matter. In the meantime, the European Commission is also considering the acquisition after Belgium, France, Greece, Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway asked it to do so. Although Illumina and Grail are both US companies, the commission notes that Illumina does business in Europe and cited the same general concerns as the FTC.

“The combined entity could restrict access or increase the prices of next-generation sequencers and reagents to the detriment of Grail’s competitors,” the commission said in a statement. Press release. “Illumina cannot complete the transaction before notifying and obtaining approval from the Commission.”

Illumina is currently fight the assertion by the European Commission that it has jurisdiction to review the case.

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