Dublin will be home to major clinical research following $12bn Icon deal

3 Mar 2021

Image: © andriano_cz/Stock.adobe.com

Two major contract research organisations will combine as Ireland’s Icon acquires US company PRA Health for $12bn.

Dublin-headquartered Icon intends to acquire rival PRA Health Sciences for $12bn, creating one of the world’s largest contract research organisations, or CROs.

Founded in Dublin in 1990, Icon is already a major CRO player in its own right. The company provides outsourced drug and device development and commercial services to pharma, biotech and medical device industries around the world.

This work attracted heightened attention in the past year as Icon conducted clinical trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. Icon’s trial, which involved 44,000 participants over a four-month period in 2020, was one of the largest and fastest Covid-19 vaccine trials conducted.

US company PRA is another major global CRO providing outsourced clinical development and data solution services to the biotech and pharma industries. It differentiates itself with mobile and digital platforms that enable trials to be conducted effectively remotely.

Using PRA’s technology, trial participants can share information using mobile devices such as smartphones. Through apps and wearable sensors, PRA supports easier data collection and enables virtual monitoring of subjects outside of a clinical setting and in the real world.

Icon’s acquisition will integrate PRA’s mobile and connected health platforms as well as its real-world data and information solutions. The result will be more flexible hybrid trial solutions, better able to meet clients’ needs.

‘We will be the leading provider of decentralised and hybrid trial solutions’

The combined company will be headquartered in Dublin, where Icon already has its HQ in Leopardstown. Icon CEO Dr Steve Cutler and CFO Brendan Brennan will continue in these roles in the combined company.

“The combined company will create a new paradigm for accelerating clinical research and bringing new medicines and devices to market,” Cutler said. “Both Icon and PRA have track records of robust growth and performance and we are ready to build on this unrivalled position of strength, utilising the outstanding talent in both organisations.

“With broader and deeper operational scale combined with innovative technology and real-world data solutions, we will enable all customers to reduce their development time and cost. We will be the leading provider of decentralised and hybrid trial solutions through the integration of our data capabilities, health platforms and Accellacare site network.”

PRA chair and CEO Colin Shannon will join the board following the close of the acquisition, along with an additional board member from PRA.

“The pandemic accelerated the adoption of mobile health technologies and healthcare intelligence tools – tools that PRA helped develop – at an unprecedented rate,” Shannon said. “The union of PRA and Icon will create an organisation that has the people, data and technology to bring those cures to patients faster and more efficiently than ever before.”

The combination of Icon and PRA will impact thousands of employees worldwide. Icon employs around 16,000 people across 93 locations, while PRA has about 19,000 employees in more than 75 offices. Icon has indicated that a “considered and effective integration will take some time” and will involve ongoing communication with employees. The acquiring company expects to harness the leadership and talent of both organisations in order to steer its combined future.

Icon also expects to have formal strategic partnerships with most of the world’s top 20 biopharma companies following the deal – many of which have a base in Ireland.

The cash and stock transaction agreed for the acquisitions is valued at about $12bn. This represents approximately a 30pc premium on PRA’s closing price as of 23 February, according to Icon’s statement.

The deal is expected to close in third quarter of 2021, subject to regulatory approval. Meanwhile, a law firm in New Orleans has launched an investigation into the proposed sale to determine if the price undervalues PRA.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.