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Biopharm, Monsanto to Partner on Agricultural Biotechnology

Herbicide spraying (Agricultural Research Service/USDA)

(Agricultural Research Service/USDA)

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Monsanto Company in St. Louis, will collaborate on developing biotechnology applications in agriculture. The agreement has an immediate value to Alnylam of $29.2 million.

The 10-year agreement gives Monsanto exclusive rights worldwide to use Alnylam’s platform technology and intellectual property in the field of agriculture. Alnylam is a developer of medicines based on RNA interference (RNAi), a process that aims at silencing disease-causing genes.

The company says its technology can target virtually any gene involved in causing disease, many more targets than small-molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies. With this technology, Alnylam is developing therapies for liver cancer, fibrosis, and high cholesterol, among other disorders.

Under the agreement, Monsanto will pay Alnylam $29.2 million in upfront payments. Alnylam will be eligible for milestone payments and additional funding for collaborative research efforts, as well as royalty payments on products based on Alnylam technology’s and intellectual property.

Monsanto says it expects to apply Alnylam’s technology to Monsanto’s genomics platform known as BioDirect. The company says that program adapts compounds found in nature for use in topical and seed treatment products. Applications include weed, insect, and virus control, such as microbial pesticides.

In May, Monsanto’s chief technology officer Robb Fraley told the Goldman Sachs Basic Materials Conference that BioDirect is the company’s first step into biological products. “By working with a plant’s own naturally-occurring processes,” said Fraley, “we have the potential to create products that are very precise and specific in how they work and may require smaller and fewer applications than current agricultural products.”

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Hat tip: Xconomy

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