Asterand Buys AdeptBio to Capitalize on Precision Medicine’s Rise

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

Asterand Bioscience, the Detroit, MI-based provider of biospecimens to drug discovery and research customers, announced it has acquired Memphis, TN-based AdeptBio, a biobank specializing in the custom procurement of human tissue samples.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but John Canepa, Asterand’s COO and CFO, said the acquisition positions the company to better capitalize on the growing trend of precision medicine—the idea of developing treatments specific to a particular patient group. Asterand will operate AdeptBio’s Tennessee tissue supply sites and absorb the company’s four employees there.

The AdeptBio deal marks the latest chapter in Asterand’s sometimes volatile history. Asterand was founded in 2000 by Detroit Xconomist Randal Charlton as a human tissue biorepository.

Over time, Asterand became the largest private supplier of clinical human tissue in the United States. To obtain the tissue, the company established relationships with dozens of donor sites, usually universities and research institutions. In 2010, Asterand acquired BioSeek, a California company with proprietary technology it said allowed customers to predict whether experimental therapies would work before researchers conducted large, expensive human clinical trials.

But the cost of acquiring BioSeek resulted in financial trouble for Asterand. By August 2011, the company was seeking funding to meet its loan obligations. By October, Asterand was for sale.

After Asterand couldn’t find a buyer for the company as a whole, it split the tissue-bank and contract research portions of the business from BioSeek and sought to sell them separately. When Asterand was unable to pay Silicon Valley Bank what it owed for financing the BioSeek acquisition, its tissue-bank business and contract research operation were auctioned off to Cambridge, MA-based Stemgent for $9 million in 2012. In November 2012, DiscoveRx, a drug discovery service provider, bought BioSeek.

At one point, Asterand was publicly traded on the UK’s London Stock Exchange, but it has since been delisted.

Rebranded as Asterand Bioscience—the previous incarnation was just called Asterand—the company moved forward as a single entity with a focus on pharma and contract research customers in precision medicine. Canepa said AdeptBio was an attractive acquisition because of its custom procurement business, which will broaden Asterand’s ability to help its customers develop targeted therapies.

Asterand kept its Detroit operation, which employs 65 people, and it remains the largest tenant in TechTown’s headquarters just off the campus of Wayne State University. Canepa said the company is planning to stay in Detroit and it recently rehabilitated its office space in conjunction with TechTown.

“The management of the company [before it was acquired by Stemgent] is pretty much still in place,” Canepa said. “It’s a great little business. It does about $20 million in revenues and is profitable. The growth of personalized medicine is very good for us, and the acquisition helps us grow strategically.”