A multimillion-dollar government contract will support a pathogen program at Myriad Genetics Inc.

The Salt Lake City firm was awarded a $14.2 million contract by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., to characterize pathogen-host protein interactions in an effort to discover targets for the next generation of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. Myriad said the grant reflects its past success in pathogen-host protein-interaction analysis, which it has previously applied to a range of antiviral drug programs. Among them is its work in anti-HIV therapeutics, through which the company has produced a lead drug candidate called MPI-49839 that is approaching clinical trials.

"We've had several publications over the last year or so about our work in protein interaction between the human host and a pathogen, virus or bacterial pathogen," William Hockett, Myriad's vice president of corporate communications, told BioWorld Today. "We've developed large networks of interactions and demonstrated that some of these make good drug targets. And so I think that was very important in our being able to demonstrate convincingly to the NIAID that we could do this for microorganisms that they're interested in."

He declined to specify the exact nature of pathogens the agency is concerned with, but said the upcoming research would include a range of pathogens related to new diseases, re-emerging diseases and those associated with bioterrorism.

Under the five-year contract, the company will study the ways in which pathogens interact with the cellular machinery of their human hosts. Myriad plans to use industrial-scale yeast two-hybrid methodology, bioinformatics and DNA sequencing to undertake proteome-wide analyses to develop protein-interaction maps between the human proteome and the proteomes of selected pathogens important to the agency.

"Once we have the networks of protein interactions developed from that [yeast hybrid] technology," Hockett said, "we'll look at small interfering RNA and ways to knock out the function of some of these proteins to see what the result is, and do some biological validation that way."

Protein interaction and validation data will be made available to the research and development community through the Proteomics Research Program Administrative Center. But Myriad retains the rights to commercialize diagnostic and therapeutic targets discovered from the project.

"It's work that sort of cross-pollinates, and we can use it to make sure that our technologies are as advanced as they can be," Hockett said. "So [the NIAID research] will have some rub-off on other technologies that we use here."

Outside of its new contract work, the company's lead candidate is Flurizan (R-flurbiprofen), a product for Alzheimer's disease and prostate cancer. Also called MPC-7869, it is in a Phase II trial that involves more than 200 mild to moderate Alzheimer's patients and a Phase II/III trial for prostate cancer. Myriad plans to report Phase I Alzheimer's data next week at a scientific meeting, followed by Phase II Alzheimer's data in the first quarter and the prostate cancer findings in the first quarter of 2006.

Hockett added that the company expects to file two investigational new drug applications this year, including one for MPI-49839 for HIV and the other for one of its cancer products. Those include MPC-6827 for pancreatic cancer, MPI-176716 for ovarian cancer and MPC-4505 for nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy.

The NIAID funding adds to Myriad's growing cash position. In June it raised $50.2 million in a stock sale, giving it about $149 million in reserves. (See BioWorld Today, June 7, 2004.)

On Thursday, Myriad's stock (NASDAQ:MYGN) fell 56 cents to close at $13.53.

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