ICON Buys Mapi, Targets “Growing” Language Services Market

One of the world’s largest contract research organizations (CRO), Ireland-headquartered ICON plc, announced on July 27, 2017 the acquisition of Mapi Group, a rival CRO based in Lyon, France. According to regulatory filings, ICON made an initial payment of EUR 119.6m for the acquisition.

A core business for CROs is supporting large pharma companies throughout a clinical trial. CROs are also among the largest buyers of language services. Companies such as Quintiles, PRA, or PPD are among the language industry’s most coveted accounts. At SlatorCon London, Quintiles’ Chief Global Procurement Officer Steve Kirk discussed why LSPs are considered a strategic vendor at his firm.

Direct Competitor

So strategic (and profitable), in fact, that some CROs offer language services as part of their core service portfolio, directly competing with language service providers (LSPs) for the business of big pharma.

ICON and Mapi are two CROs with sizeable internal language groups. “We have a language services group, they have a language services group. That is a market that is growing as well,” ICON CEO Dr. Steve Cutler said during the company’s second quarter earnings call when the deal was announced.

In the media statement released on the same day, ICON said the acquisition will strengthen its “existing commercialization and outcomes research business,” which includes a language services division that it describes as a “full-service translation services company seated within a top-10 CRO.”

“We have a language services group, they have a language services group” — Dr. Steve Cutler, CEO, ICON plc

It counts among its services, linguistic validation, clinical translations, translatability assurance, and translation technologies.

Mapi, a provider of health research and commercialization services to life science companies for over 40 years, could indeed provide a significant own value add.

For one, the merger would allow ICON to have access to Mapi Research Trust, an extensive library of Clinical Outcomes Assessments (COAs), which also licenses COA services to commercial, academic and regulatory research organizations.

The research library has more than 29,000 COAs, including more than 40,000 translated versions of 2,500 questionnaires in 170 languages, according to the Mapi website.

Mapi Language Services, on the other hand, has been providing medical translation and linguistic validation of COAs for more than 25 years and claims to have “first-hand knowledge of local languages and cultures, regulations, and healthcare practices.”

ICON and Mapi both specialize in the Late Phase Clinical Trials market and are bullish on the impact of their combined forces.

“Full-service translation services company seated within a top-10 CRO”

“The Late Phase market is valued at around USD 10bn and is projected to grow at something like 10% per annum over the next three years as customers face greater scrutiny by regulators and reimbursement bodies around the product value and safety,” Cutler said in the earnings call. “Our new combined late phase group will have in excess of 1,400 professionals operating throughout our global network and will significantly enhance our key offerings.

More Than Just a Translation Company

The Mapi Group claims on its website that it is “more than just a translation company” in the sense that its expertise is on linguistic validation, having developed the Linguistic Validation Manual for Health Outcome Assessments used by the industry.

In March 2017, the company announced that it has become the exclusive licensor, distributor and translator of the Disability Assessment for Dementia (DAD), a 40-item questionnaire originally published in 1999 for measuring functional abilities of individuals with cognitive impairments.

“Collaborating with Mapi will assure the production of high quality and harmonized translations and electronic versions of the DAD and their dissemination within the scientific community, while respecting the integrity and copyright of my questionnaire,” DAD author Dr. Isabelle Gélinas was quoted as saying in the news release.

Mapi Research Trust Managing Katrin Conway also stressed that consistency of translations is “essential to ensure the integrity of the COAs and the accuracy of results.”

Extremely Interested in Growing Big Pharma Accounts

The Mapi deal is the latest in a long line of companies ICON has snapped up since the company was founded in 1990.

For the second quarter of 2017, ICON reported a 5% increase in revenue to USD 431m compared to the same quarter last year. Cutler announced that the company is increasing its full year revenue guidance from USD 1.74bn to USD 1.77bn, most of which is thanks to the MAPI acquisition, according to an investor call transcript.

“We feel that there is really some nice connection there with some large pharma customer” — Dr. Steve Cutler, CEO, ICON plc

Asked what ICON’s next moves are, Cutler said, “We feel that there is really some nice connection there with some large pharma customers, an area where we are extremely interested in growing.”

Big pharma, of course, is a market many language service providers are keen to expand in. TransPerfect has been in the space for a long time. RWS Group and Welocalize have spent heavily on acquisitions, while Lionbridge and SDL are ramping up capabilities. In large language services tenders, LSPs will now likely face an even more competitive ICON.