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US FTC orders Illumina to divest cancer detection test maker Grail

US FTC orders Illumina to divest cancer detection test maker Grail

By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Monday ordered Illumina to divest cancer diagnostic test maker Grail, finding that its ownership would stifle competition in the U.S. market for cancer tests.

Illumina said it would appeal the decision, and will seek expedited consideration from an appeals court. The company said the FTC order to unwind the deal would be automatically put on hold.

Judge Michael Chappell, an administrative law judge at the agency, ruled last year that the $7.1 billion acquisition of Grail would not hurt competition. The FTC staff appealed the decision to agency leadership.

The FTC, which enforces antitrust law, first filed a complaint in March 2021 to stop Illumina’s bid for its former subsidiary.

The agency has expressed concern that Illumina, the dominant provider of DNA sequencing of tumors and cancer cells that help match patients with the best treatment option, might raise prices or refuse to keep selling to rivals of Grail, which is seeking to market a powerful test to diagnose many kinds of cancer from a single blood test, known as liquid biopsy.

At a December hearing, Illumina pledged to keep selling its DNA sequencing services to other firms. It has offered to sign contracts to supply any of Grail’s rivals and to not raise prices.

Meanwhile, Illumina completed the takeover of Grail in August 2021, despite the lack of regulatory approval from Europe or the United States.

Illumina shares were off 1.4% at $229.35 on Monday.

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who owns 1.4% of Illumina, is waging a boardroom challenge. He has called for Illumina, now valued at $36 billion, to unwind its deal for Grail, which he called a risky acquisition that cost shareholders $50 billion. 

The deal also faces stiff headwinds in Europe.

In Brussels in early December, EU antitrust regulators proposed measures for Illumina to unwind its acquisition of Grail, three months after blocking the deal on concerns it would hurt competition. The EU antitrust watchdog is set to issue a final decision in early 2023.

Illumina has also appealed the Brussels decision, arguing that it does no business in Europe and thus the European Union competition enforcer has no jurisdiction.

Christine Wilson, a Republican commissioner who left the agency last week, voted to order the divestiture, saying that Illumina’s offer to address the harms were inadequate.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Additional reporting by Svea Herbst; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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