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Myriad RBM Collaborating with Max Planck on Test for Early Detection of Colon Cancer

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Myriad RBM is collaborating with researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry and the Bavarian Red Cross Blood Donor BioBank to identify protein biomarkers for the early detection of colon cancer.

Announced last week by Myriad CEO Peter Meldrum during the company's third-quarter earnings call, the collaboration will use Myriad RBM's DiscoveryMAP 250+ platform to analyze samples from several hundred colon cancer patients.

Intellectual property related to any biomarker panel that emerges from the study will be shared among the three parties, with Myriad RBM retaining exclusive commercialization rights.

The project emerged out of regular sales discussions between the company and researchers at Max Planck, Sam LaBrie, vice president of corporate development at Myriad RBM, told ProteoMonitor.

This led to a pilot study led by Friedrich Lottspeich, head of the institute's Protein Analysis group, and, LaBrie said, in light of encouraging results from this work, the parties have decided to expand the collaboration.

"We would like to have an early blood test that would say [a patient] has a greater [than normal] likelihood of having colon cancer and so should go get a colonoscopy," he said. "The compliance rate with colonoscopies is really low, so the disease is under-detected. So we hope to have a test that you would take on a regular basis and then if you have a positive you would go get a colonoscopy."

Key to the work, LaBrie said, is the participation of the BRC BioBank, which maintains a collection of more than 3 million blood samples for biomarker research.

"There are thousands of people signed up to donate blood [through the BRC], and they report to the service when they get a medical condition and they stay with the system for years," he said. "So [the BRC] has built up a database where they have medical information on thousands of people and [multiple] blood samples taken prior to the occurrence of medical conditions."

In addition to the colon cancer samples, the researchers have obtained samples for other cancers and diseases like inflammatory bowel syndrome with the aim of identifying markers capable of distinguishing between those indications and colon cancer.

The samples for the study have been collected and are soon to arrive at the company's Austin, Texas, headquarters, LaBrie said. He added that the researchers will likely finish running the samples and processing the data by the end of the year.

"It's [currently] a discovery phase project, so there's no commercialization timeline," he added.

The samples will be run on the company's recently expanded DiscoveryMap 250+ panel, LaBrie said, which includes assays for 30 new cancer-related biomarkers developed with funding from the National Cancer Institute and the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas and in collaboration with the NCI's Clinical Proteomic Technologies for Cancer Initiative's Antibody Characterization Program.

The new markers, which are also part of the OncologyMap 2.0 panel that the company launched this week, include proteins linked to angiogenesis and tumor growth, like cadherin-1, cystatin A & B, and midkine, as well as cancer type-specific proteins like beta-microseminoprotein, CECAM 1 & 6, CA-9, and pancreatic secretory trypsin inhibitor.

During last week's earnings call, Meldrum reported that Myriad RBM had $6.5 million in revenues in the third quarter – up from $5.2 million in Q2 and equal with the $6.5 million the company reported in Q1. The company did not provide a comparison to the year-ago quarter because RBM was not part of the company at that time.

Noting the sequential rise in revenues, Meldrum said the company expected the division's sales numbers "to fluctuate a little bit from quarter to quarter depending on the timing of [its research] contracts."

"When we announced the [RBM] acquisition, we indicated that we felt it would become accretive after about two years," he added. "And I think we're still on schedule for achieving that goal."

Myriad completed its $80 million purchase of RBM last June. The purchase marked the genetic testing firm's entry into the proteomics space, giving it RBM's biomarker discovery platform and pipeline of proprietary protein biomarker-based diagnostics as well as access to new patient cohorts for diagnostic development (PM 4/29/2011).

At the time, Rebecca Chambers, Myriad's director of investor relations and corporate communications, noted that RBM had in development eight diagnostics aimed at indications including psychiatric disorders, inflammation, and infectious diseases that the company was particularly interested in.

Myriad has targeted five protein-based tests as high priority for commercialization: the aforementioned colon cancer diagnostic; a test for early detection of kidney damage in diabetics; a diagnostic for distinguishing between bipolar disorder and major depression; a test for early detection of kidney transplant rejection; and a test for distinguishing between patients with Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment.

Myriad is also involved in a collaboration with the US military investigating use of its VeriPsych product – a panel of 51 protein and hormone biomarkers intended to help confirm the diagnosis of recent onset schizophrenia – for testing soldiers prior to deployment.

"The military has now received the data from the VeriPsych study, and they are currently analyzing that data," Meldrum said last week. "I don't have a specific timeline for a decision, but we are very interested in the military's analysis."

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