Gen-Probe Inc. wants to put Becton, Dickinson & Co. to the acid test. Specifically, probing how BD tests nucleic acid to spot viruses.
The San Diego-based diagnostics company recently filed suit accusing its New Jersey-based rival of undermining several of its patents and using them in the BD Viper system. The complaint seeks a jury trial and asks for unspecified monetary damages as well as injuctive relief.
Gen-Probe has built much of its diagnostics business on the ability of devices like its Tigris system to identify diseases based on genetic markings specific to different viruses. In particular, the company markets assays for sexually transmitted diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV-1, and hepatitis C as well as blood-borne maladies such as the West Nile virus. The suit would enforce five patents protecting several nucleic acid targets. It also is challenging a BD test system used to identify chlamydia and gonorrhea along with seeking to protect a patent it received for penetrable caps used on specimen collection tubes.
Becton, Dickinson officials have not yet formally responded to the suit and have until Dec. 9 to file their initial response after winning an extension last week from U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez.
Regardless of its outcome, the Oct. 19 case demonstrates the tension among device manufacturers as they spar for market share inside diagnostic test labs. For example, BD recently reported a 4.5-percent jump in revenues for its diagnostic segment during its 2009 fiscal year, citing solid sales for the Viper system for a portion of those gains.
Gen-Probe, meanwhile, has seen revenues in its blood-screening business slip in recent quarters, which it blames mostly on economic conditions. Tigris has received kudos for its ease of use and its ability to handle large number of samples, although the latter attribute may losing some of its luster as many labs appearing to be moving away from pooled testing of large numbers of donor samples to smaller pool sizes, company officials explained in a recent quarterly report.
Gen-Probe and Novartis paired several years ago to distribute blood screening products in Europe and the companies recently extended that pact through September 2025. The deal with Novartis now accounts for about 40 percent of Gen-Probe’s yearly revenues.