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Monsanto Options Tekmira Delivery Technology in Agriculture

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Tekmira Pharmaceuticals this week announced that it has signed a deal giving ag-bio firm Monsanto the option to license its proprietary lipid-based RNAi delivery technology for use in agricultural applications.

Over the four-year term of the option, Tekmira will provide Monsanto with lipid formulations in exchange for undisclosed payments to maintain the option. If Monsanto choses to exercise its option, it will pay an undisclosed fee to Tekmira and receive an exclusive, worldwide license to its delivery technology in agriculture.

Tekmira will retain all therapeutic rights to its technology.

The deal comes as Monsanto forges ahead with its efforts to develop RNAi-based products under its BioDirect product line.

About a year ago, the company reported that it is working on four products that feature the gene-silencing technology, just months after acquiring the exclusive rights to Alnylam Pharmaceuticals' RNAi technology and intellectual property in the agriculture field.

The most developed of Monsanto's RNAi products is corn rootworm III, a strain of corn that expresses dsRNAs against a gene essential for intracellular trafficking in the corn rootworm, a pest that feeds on the roots of corn and is a leading cause of crop damage. Corn rootworm III also incorporates toxic Bt proteins that are already used to combat the pest.

As reported by Gene Silencing News, Monsanto expects to launch this product by 2020.

Monsanto's interest in Tekmira's technology also comes amid a growing recognition that delivery is as much a hurdle to ag-bio as it is to human therapeutics.

Earlier this month, Monsanto's RNA technology lead Sergey Ivashuta explained to Gene Silencing News that while some insects are highly amenable to environmental RNAi, which occurs when dsRNA are ingested by the animals, others are not due to differences in alimentary canal physiology that can led to the degradation of RNAi molecules.

In essence, this is an issue of delivery, and "I think we can learn a lot [from] the delivery problem in the RNAi therapeutics area" by considering the ways that industry has been overcoming this problem," he said at the time.

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