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Sidley, DLA Piper lobby for Illumina against FTC merger challenge

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The offices of gene sequencing company Illumina Inc in San Diego, California. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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  • Sidley's lobbying team includes head of government strategies group
  • Life sciences company Illumina is set to stand trial at the FTC in August
  • U.S. action marked rare challenge of a proposed vertical merger

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(Reuters) - Illumina Inc ramped up its U.S. lobbying spend in Washington, D.C., in recent months, hiring law firms Sidley Austin and DLA Piper to advocate for the biotechnology company as it prepares to contest a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) antitrust complaint at trial in August, according to a Reuters review of U.S. advocacy disclosures.

The FTC's administrative complaint, filed in March, said San Diego-based Illumina's proposed $7.1 billion acquisition of GRAIL Inc. would harm innovation in the market for "multi-cancer early detection" tests and drive up prices. GRAIL, which makes a non-invasive biopsy test, and its competitors rely on Illumina technology, the agency said.

Companies facing regulatory or enforcement scrutiny often boost outside advocacy efforts. Illumina spent $360,000 on U.S. lobbying in the second quarter, including $150,000 for Sidley Austin government affairs services and $40,000 for DLA Piper, which was hired in July. The firms said in disclosures they were lobbying in Congress to support Illumina's acquisition of GRAIL.

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The second-quarter lobbying spend by Illumina was its largest quarterly government affairs expenditure since the company first registered lobbying activity in 2012, according to data at nonpartisan research outlet Center for Responsive Politics. The company spent $890,000 on lobbying activity last year.

The Sidley team includes Michael Borden, who leads the government strategies group, and former U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, an Illinois Republican. The DLA Piper team includes senior policy adviser Jim Greenwood, a former U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania who now is co-leader of the firm's life sciences policy and regulatory group.

Borden and Greenwood did not return messages seeking comment about their advocacy, and a spokesperson for Illumina did not return a message seeking comment. The FTC declined to comment.

The FTC antitrust trial is set to start on Aug. 24. Antitrust lawyers are closely tracking the case, a rare government action to stop a "vertical" merger between companies that do not directly compete with each other. EU antitrust regulators in May warned that Illumina's proposed acquisition of GRAIL could reduce market competition.

Lawyers from Cravath, Swaine & Moore, including Christine Varney, who leads the firm's antitrust practice, and partner Sharonmoyee Goswami represent Illumina at the FTC. Varney led the Justice Department's antitrust division from 2009 to 2011.

Grail, based in Menlo Park, California, is represented by a team from Latham & Watkins, including partners Michael Egge and Marguerite Sullivan.

Illumina CEO Francis deSouza in April said the GRAIL "acquisition provides huge benefits to people who have cancer and don't know it."

Major U.S. law firms are representing non-parties whose documents, responsive to subpoenas, might be in play as part of the trial. Ultima Genomics Inc is represented by Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan, and The American Cancer Society is represented by Holland & Knight, according to records filed this week at the FTC.

The case is In the Matter of Illumina Inc and GRAIL Inc, Federal Trade Commission Office of Administrative Law Judges, Docket No. 9401.

For the government: Susan Musser of the FTC

For Illumina: Christine Varney of Cravath, Swaine & Moore

For GRAIL: Michael Egge of Latham & Watkins

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