Quest Diagnostics Incorporated announced yesterday that it purchased Sweden-based HemoCue for about $420 million. This purchase marks Quest Diagnostics’ first serious entry into the in vitro diagnostics (IVD) market and positions it in an unexpected segment of diagnostic testing.

HemoCue has global revenues of about $90 million per year, according to Quest Diagnostics. Its products are sold internationally. It provides point-of-care blood tests for hemoglobin, along with products for professional glucose and microalbumin testing. HemoCue’s handheld systems are used to screen for anemia and other conditions in physicians’ offices, blood banks, hospitals, diabetes clinics, and public health clinics. The company is currently developing hand-held systems to measure white blood cell count. Quest Diagnostics purchased HemoCue from a European-based private equity firm, EQT II BV.

Quest Diagnostics intends to integrate HemoCue’s handheld systems with its Care360 Portal, which gives doctors access to lab and medication records, patient medical history, and remote ordering of lab testing or prescriptions. Quest Diagnostics also said the deal will allow it to expand into international markets. “Technology is enabling diagnostic testing to move closer to the patient, and the acquisition of HemoCue and its exciting product pipeline gives us a strong presence in this emerging market,” said Surya N. Mohapatra, Chairman and CEO of Quest Diagnostics.

Dark Daily notes that Quest Diagnostics has been under stress to defend the business it gets from doctors who serve United HealthCare patients. The timing and nature of this acquisition have the appearance of a strategic move to shift the attention of investors away from Quest’s challenges with its United HealthCare book of business. As well, HemoCue’s $90 million in annual revenues will also help to replace revenue that Quest Diagnostics is expected to lose as a result of being excluded as a UnitedHealth provider in most markets since January 1, 2007.