US regulator moves to block Illumina's purchase of Pacific Biosciences

The US Federal Trade Commission issued a challenge to Illumina's proposed $1.2-billion acquisition of Pacific Biosciences, arguing that the deal would maintain the former's monopoly for next-generation DNA sequencing (NGS) systems by "extinguishing…a nascent competitive threat." The regulator alleged that the acquisition is illegal because it "may substantially" lessen competition in the market for NGS systems and prevent future competition between Illumina and PacBio.

According to the FTC, PacBio has made significant technological advancements in recent years that have increased the accuracy and overall throughput of its systems, while lowering the cost. As a result, PacBio is "a closer alternative to Illumina than ever before" and "is poised to take increasing sequencing volume from Illumina in the future."

In announcing the deal in November last year, Illumina noted that the purchase will add accurate long-read sequencing capabilities to its portfolio, which employs short-read sequencing technology. The FTC alleges that the acquisition would harm competition by reducing the combined entity's incentive to innovate and develop new products, as the two companies currently "drive each other's innovation."

The FTC authorised staff to seek a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction in federal court, if required, to maintain the status quo pending the administrative proceeding. The regulator added that an administrative trial is scheduled to begin on August 18, 2020. Meanwhile, in response to the news, an Illumina spokesman said that "we strongly disagree with the FTC's decision and will continue to work through the regulatory approval process as we consider next steps."

Last month, the UK Competition and Markets Authority extended the deadline for completing its inquiry into the acquisition by eight weeks. The regulator initially set itself the deadline of December 11 to complete its investigation, but has now pushed this date to February 5 next year.

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