By Mary Welch

Myriad Genetics Inc. inked a third collaboration centered on its ProNet drug discovery technology. This time the deal is with Monsanto Co. and potentially worth $15 million, plus royalties.

"This is a little bit of a different deal for the ProNet technology than with our other two partners," said William Hockett, spokesman for Salt Lake City-based Myriad.

Hockett called the agreement a "more focused collaboration, with a 12- to 15-month time span. They came to us with two specific diseases in mind, rather than using us to mine our databases looking for interesting targets. This is pathway-specific."

Neither the diseases nor other financial terms were disclosed, although Hockett said Monsanto, of St. Louis, is providing a "modest" up-front payment, along with option payments, license fees and milestone payments. Monsanto has an option to extend the program into other areas, he added.

Introduced less than a year ago, Myriad's ProNet has provided a number of new targets for therapeutic development and, in another collaboration, more than doubled the worldwide knowledge of the genetics of a major disease of the elderly, the company said.

Method Offers High-Volume Interaction Profiling

ProNet technology is based upon a high-throughput version of the yeast-2-hybrid system, a method using unique characteristics of the yeast organism to test for interactions between human proteins. Essentially, it is a database of human proteins and the proteins with which they interact, along with the biochemical pathways.

Myriad said ProNet is uniquely configured to identify proteins and link them into biochemical pathways, thus profiling all the protein interactions in the human genome.

The technology can uncover the protein interactions from among millions of potential pairings with more than 100 different protein baits per day. The robotically automated process takes about 90 days, so that each day 100 new protein baits begin the process of screening for interaction against one of Myriad's proprietary libraries of proteins and each day another 100 finish the process. During the course of a year, the ProNet technology can identify four generations of protein interactions.

Myriad has two other partners for ProNet, and Hockett said discussions are under way with other firms. The other collaborations consist of a $51 million deal, with $20 million up front, with Schering AG, of Berlin, signed in October, and a $54 million pact with Pittsburgh-based Bayer Corp. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 7, 1998, p. 1, and Nov. 21, 1997, p. 1.)

Myriad's stock (NASDAQ:MYGN) closed Thursday at $11.375, unchanged. n