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Flagship heart disease aid firm closes despite public funding of more than £30m

A FLAGSHIP international life sciences company in Stirling which makes heart disease diagnostic devices is to close with the loss of 60 jobs following a strategic review of the ailing US holding company's global assets.

Employees at Alere Technologies Ltd, which received £31.2 million in public support during its lifetime and was slated by Scotland's development agencies to create 500 new jobs, are now being formally consulted on the proposed closure of the plant, known as CardioSense when it was established in 2005.

A spokeswoman for Massachusetts-based Alere Inc told the Sunday Herald that research and development as well as manufacturing at the site on would be progressively wound down over the coming months and the plant at Stirling University Innovation Park would be closed down by February 2015.

"As a result of a strategic review of its business Alere Inc is reprioritising activities and will no longer develop the Alere heart check device, which has been the focus of Stirling's operations," the spokeswoman said.

She added that jobs would not be transferred to other Alere sites and that the company's flagship heart check would be taken off the market.

The spokeswoman declined to rule out future redundancies at Alere's other two sites in Scotland, saying: "Right now, the only site in Scotland that we are in consultation with regarding closure is Stirling. We have other sites in Scotland but we are not in a consultation process with them."

Both companies, Axis-Shield Diagnostics and BBI Holdings, are in Dundee and have a combined workforce of 200 employees developing and manufacturing medical diagnostic products.

Earlier this year, Alere Inc abandoned plans for an initial public offering in a new company to have been called BBI Diagnostics which would have included Axis-Shield Diagnostics and BBI Holdings as well as other Alere-owned operations in Europe. Alere Inc had planned to use the IPO to sell 25% of its interest in the newly created company and use the proceeds to pay down debt.

The closure of the Stirling plant appeared not to surprise some, given the financial condition of the company. A Scottish life sciences insider told this newspaper that he thought the two Dundee companies were less likely to be closed as they have stronger market positions.

Alere Inc, previously called Inverness Medical Innovations, has 17,600 employees worldwide. It describes itself as one of the largest health management companies in North America, and a global manufacturer of consumer and professional medical diagnostic products.

Earlier this summer, the corporation posted poor financial figures for the second quarter, which revealed a 3.4% downturn in revenues and losses totalling $55 million. The dismal results were followed by the sudden resignation of three top executives at the company, including Alere's long-serving president and chief executive, Ron Zwanziger, who had been criticised by some analysts for alleged inefficiencies at the company.

Describing the earnings report as "unsatisfactory", the corporation's replacement interim chief executive Namal Nawana said Alere Inc would respond by cutting costs and selling parts of its business to allow it to focus on its core diagnostics products.

In its most recent accounts to be filed with Companies House, Alere Technologies Ltd, the Stirling company which will be closed, posted pre-tax losses on ordinary activities of £3.6 million for 2012 following losses of £5.4m in 2011.

Between 2005 and 2013, Alere Inc received £31,245,000 in public money to help set up CardioSense - or Alere Technologies as it was later renamed. Of the £31.2m, £30.75m was from Scottish Enterprise and £495,000 was Scottish Government-approved Regional Selective Assistance.

The investment was justified in 2005 as potentially creating 500 jobs, including more than 100 high-value research jobs. But the company only ever employed a maximum of 103 people, in 2011.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman expressed "disappointment" at the closure of the Stirling plant, adding: "We are working with the company to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to support the workforce at this difficult time."

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