ST. LOUIS--Monsanto gained access to a full range of bioinformatics and genomic services last month when it signed a five-year agreement with Millennium Pharmaceuticals worth up to $218 million and expanded a year-old relationship with Incyte Pharmaceuticals for an undisclosed sum.
Under terms of the agreement with Millennium, Monsanto will create a wholly owned subsidiary in Cambridge, Mass., where Millennium is based, that will use genomics to discover and develop agriculture products. Millennium will collaborate with the subsidiary using its proprietary genomics technologies. The second main aspect of the deal calls for Millennium to transfer a range of genomics technologies to Monsanto for use in developing other life sciences products.
Hendrik Verfaillie, Monsanto's president, predicted the new subsidiary will become "a leading genomics-based life sciences presence. This subsidiary is an integral component of our life sciences strategy and will provide an enabling technology for our future growth," he observed. It will be staffed with about 100 scientists next year, all funded by Monsanto.
Informatics will play a key role in the partnership, including in sequencing, transcriptional and protein profiling, and functional analysis of genes. "Informatics is critical in analyzing all types of data," explained Alan Crane, Millennium's vice-president of business development. "Informatics becomes the basis for integrating our very broad platform." Mark Levin, Millennium's CEO, added, "We believe that Monsanto shares our vision of the potential of genomics-based technologies to transform life sciences. We are delighted and excited by the prospect of marrying the strengths of Monsanto's and Millennium's world-leading research and discovery efforts in the largest and most comprehensive agricultural genomics effort in the world."
Millennium has entered into nine alliances totaling $700 million since it was founded in 1993. The Monsanto deal is the largest so far, providing Millennium with, among other sums, $38 million up front; $16 million a year in technical, transfer, and licensing fees; up to $20 million a year in incentives; plus royalties. In total Millennium stands to gain $118 million in up-front, licensing, and technology transfer payments, plus as much as $100 million more over the five-year term of the agreement if certain research objectives are met. The company will also have the right to use certain technologies developed by the new Monsanto subsidiary for nonexclusive use outside the plant and agricultural areas.
In its new multiyear deal with Incyte, Monsanto's life sciences business will receive bioinformatics-derived human, microbial, and animal gene sequence and expression information, as well as nonexclusive access to Incyte's full range of genomic and bioinformatics expertise and services. In return, Incyte may earn royalties on sales of products developed with its resources. Monsanto's original partnership with Incyte, for plant genomics information, has been in place since September 1996.
"We provide all this information in an integrated format, allowing them to do comparative genomics among species," commented Dayna Wheeler, Incyte's manager of investor relations and corporate communications. She declined to quantify the deal for competitive reasons, but called it Incyte's largest to date. The six-year-old firm, which has 530 employees, is in 19 other active alliances and constantly targets top pharmaceutical and biotech companies for collaborations, Wheeler said.
A Monsanto spokeswoman told BioInform that the two new deals were pursued to gain access to the broadest possible array of human, animal, microbe, and plant genomics databases. "We have some pretty extensive biotech capabilities in-house and this will expand on those," she noted, adding that access to the Millennium and Incyte services will shorten Monsanto's research and development time frames, allowing it to create new products faster. "We can look at a lot more with more precision," the spokeswoman concluded.
Ganesh Kishore, Monsanto's assistant chief scientist and chief biotechnologist, noted, "The understanding of the relationship between gene structure and function is essential for us. We expect to dramatically accelerate the commercialization of our current pipeline of agricultural, nutritional, and pharmaceutical products as a result of this relationship. It should also increase the robustness, speed, and efficiency with which we create our future products."
The deal gives Monsanto access to Incyte's LifeSeq, LifeSeq FL, LifeSeq Atlas, PathoSeq, and ZooSeq databases, as well as the GeneAlbum cDNA clone reagent set. Peter Corr, Monsanto's senior vice-president for pharmaceutical discovery research commented that the deal with Incyte "will provide access to the largest human, animal, microbe, and plant-based genomics databases available in an integrated format. Coupled with our current expertise in biotechnology, this agreement will contribute substantially to advancing our present programs in discovery, as well as aiding in the identification of new molecular targets across Monsanto life sciences businesses."