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UPDATE: Myriad, Hitachi, Oracle in $185M Collaboration to Map Human Proteome

NEW YORK, April 4 - Myriad Genetics, Hitachi, and Oracle are funneling $185 million into a new collaborative venture, Myriad Proteomics, to map the entire human proteome by 2004, the companies said Wednesday.

The group plans to catalog all human proteins, elucidate their interactions, and identify all biochemical protein pathways within the cells, then collect this information into a proprietary database.

"This ambitious project to map the human proteome within three years will enable us to make a great leap forward in our understanding of the causes of human disease," said Peter Meldrum, Myriad Genetics CEO, in a conference call Wednesday. "The collaboration will generate a vast amount of data and scientific information that must be stored, managed, analyzed, and retrieved quickly and easily by pharmaceutical and other life sciences customers of Myriad Proteomics."

Myriad Proteomics will be a 50 percent owned subsidiary of Myriad Genetics, of Salt Lake City, Utah; with Hitachi, Oracle and Friedli Corporate Finance of Zurich, Switzerland owning the remaining 50 percent. The companies did not disclose further details about the breakdown of equity in this subsidiary.    

Myriad Genetics will contribute its proteomics technology, which it says is worth $82 million, and will market the database to pharma and biotechnology companies, but will not use its own cash for the project. 

Hitachi, Oracle, and Fredli, an early investor and shareholder in Myriad Genetics, will offer a combined $85 million in cash, plus $18 million in technology for the project. Additionally, Hitachi will contribute its electronic expertise, and will be the exclusive distributor of the database in Asia. Oracle will provide the software platform for the database, which will be capable of holding terabytes of data, Meldrum said.  

While Oracle provided the software platform for Celera's sequencing of the human genome, this is Oracle's first investment in the biotechnology industry, said Doug Renner, Oracle's vice president of corporate development, in the conference call. 

Celera has also initiated an effort to characterize the human proteome and Large Scale Biolgy has begun to amass a database of all the human proteins. Additionally, HUPO, the Human Proteome Organization, has said it wants to coordinate a worldwide effort to decode the human proteome, similar to the way the Human Genome Organization led the effort to sequence the genome.

But Myriad says its collaboration is different from Celera's and others because only Myriad Proteomics is seeking to provide a comprehensive map of the interactions and pathways between proteins.

"From my understanding, Celera is interested in developing a catalog of proteins that are in the human body," said William Hockett, a Myriad spokesperson. "We believe that the real drug target information will come from protein interactions and biochemical pathways."

To identify protein interactions, Myriad will employ a random "shotgun" approach, combining ProNet, its high-throughput yeast two-hybrid technology and ProSpec, its mass spectrometry technology for identifying protein complexes. 

In ProNet, "randomly generated bait or DNA binding domains are screened against a random activation domain fusion library to rapidly identify pairs of interacting proteins, similar to the shotgun sequencing strategy used in sequencing of the human genome," said Sudhir Sahasrabudhe, Myriad's vice president of research. 

While this method can detect even weak protein-protein interactions, it is not good at detecting those proteins that undergo post-translational modification, Sahasrabudhe said. For these proteins, the company uses ProSpec, in which affinity reagents are used to capture multiple complexes; then the complexes are incubated with cell lysate and isolated and identified with mass spectrometry analysis.

Myriad will use an undisclosed number of MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry machines in this effort, most likely the Voyager from ABI Perseptive Biosystems, said Hockett.

Myriad Genetics has existing proteomics collaborations with six outside companies, including a $26 million deal with Hitachi initiated last May, and other publicized agreements with Bayer, Roche, and Schering AG. These collaborations, which focus on using ProNet and ProSpec to delineate protein pathways, will continue, and Myriad Genetics may enter into other limited collaborations in the future, Hockett said.

But Myriad Proteomics will not be involved in these partnerships, which are aimed at drug discovery. Myriad, said Hockett, chose to spin off this new effort into a subsidiary to keep the information-generating and drug discovery functions separate.

In a sign of the separation from its subsidiary, Myriad Genetics has granted Myriad Proteomics a license to the ProSpec and ProNet technologies, and in return has agreed to license the proteomic database that Myriad Proteomics develops. Myriad Proteomics may even have its own CEO and management. 

Myriad Genetics, however, plans to use the information from Myriad Proteomics' database in its drug discovery efforts. The access to this data, said Meldrum, "will drive forward dramatic advances in our war on cancer, heart disease, and other human diseases."
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