Irish contract research firm Icon is to buy rival PRA Health Sciences in a deal valued at about $12bn, expanding into virtual clinical trials that use patient data from mobile apps and wearable devices.

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted clinical trial enrollment and forced companies to adopt virtual trials or those that used new methods of patient data collection and monitoring like video calls, wearables and activity trackers.

“The deal will address the growing market need for decentralised and hybrid trial solutions from a differentiated combination of mobile and connected health platforms, a global site network, home health services and wearables expertise,” Icon said in a statement.

Icon gains access to PRA’s a mobile-based health platform, which uses an app to enroll patients and collect clinical outcome data and conduct virtual patient visits for clinical trials.

The combined company will form the world’s largest contract research organisation.

It will remain headquartered in Leopardstown where Icon is currently based and will be led by Dr Steve Cutler, Chief Executive Officer at ICON.

“The combined company will create a new paradigm for accelerating clinical research and bringing new medicines and devices to market,” he said.

“Both ICON and PRA have track records of robust growth and performance and we are ready to build on this unrivalled position of strength, utilising the outstanding talent in both organisations.”

ICON was founded in Dublin in 1990 and has grown into one of the world’s biggest contract research organisations.

It recently completed the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine trial, the largest and fastest randomised trial to date.

Icon will pay about $166 per PRA share – $80 in cash and 0.4125 Icon stock – representing a premium of nearly 30% to PRA’s closing price on Tuesday.

The combined business will have partnerships with a majority of the top 20 biopharma companies, Icon said.

The deal is expected yield double-digit growth in the first full year and grow to over 20% thereafter, Icon said.

When the merger closes, PRA shareholders will own about 34% of the shares of the combined company and ICON shareholders will own about 66%.