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Myriad Genetics Acquires Exclusive Rights to Pancreatic Cancer Gene Patents from Johns Hopkins

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Myriad Genetics, Inc. has announced it has obtained from Johns Hopkins University a world-wide, exclusive license to patents covering mutations in the PALB2 gene that increase an individual's risk for developing pancreatic cancer later in life.

These patents, combined with Myriad's extensive patent estate covering additional predisposition genes for pancreatic cancer, form the foundation for a novel molecular diagnostic test to assist patients to understand their risk for hereditary pancreatic cancer. Currently under development at Myriad, this new predictive medicine product could be on the market in 2010.

"At the present time, pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose early, resulting in few options to help improve patient survival," said Dr. Gregory C. Critchfield, President of Myriad Genetic Laboratories, Inc. "Knowing who is at higher risk of pancreatic cancer will allow for the development of strategies for early detection and possible prevention of this deadly disease, giving doctors and patients tools to better address this cancer."

The PALB2 gene was recently identified as a susceptibility gene for familial pancreatic cancer by scientists at the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center at the Johns Hopkins University (Science, April 10, 2009). Other commonly mutated genes that play a role in familial pancreatic cancer include BRCA2 and p16 to which Myriad holds exclusive rights under 10 issued U.S. patents.

If an individual has a mutation in one of the BRCA2, PALB2 or p16 genes, their risk of developing pancreatic cancer by age 70 may be as high as 10 to 20 times greater than that of the general population. A molecular diagnostic test that could assess an individual's risk of developing pancreatic cancer later in life would enable a physician to better manage a patient's healthcare by increasing surveillance to catch the cancer at an earlier stage when it is more treatable and the prognosis is more favorable. The information provided by such a test also may guide therapy.

The PALB2 gene is a tumor suppressor gene that encodes a protein that serves as a binding partner with BRCA2. The two genes work together to repair DNA damage. The PALB2 protein stabilizes the BRCA2 protein and then localizes and anchors it to DNA in the cell's nucleus, enabling BRCA2 to repair damaged DNA and mend mistakes in DNA that occur naturally or from environmental effects. Through this DNA repair support mechanism, PALB2 helps control the rate of cell growth and prevents cells from growing uncontrollably and turning cancerous.

As reported in the April 10, 2009 issue of Science, no mutations in PALB2 were found in the 1,084 normal, cancer-free individuals in a previous study of similar ethnicity. However, in 96 familial pancreatic cancer patients, over 3% had protein truncating mutations that would have compromised PALB2's ability to perform its tumor suppressor function.