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Major depression gene discovery could spark new class of drugs

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH, Feb. 4, 2003 -- Myriad Genetics announced the discovery of an important new gene named DEP1 that causes depression. The DEP1 gene will form the basis of a drug discovery and development program with Abbott Laboratories, focusing on the development of an entirely new class of drugs to treat depression.

 The DEP1 gene discovery triggers a $1 million milestone payment to Myriad from Abbott.

The DEP1 gene was discovered by genomic DNA analysis of over 400 Utah families with strong histories of major depression. Families were selected for multiple cases of major depression, which is a serious, chronic and often debilitating form of the disease, and early age at diagnosis of the disease. Three of the largest families contributing to the discovery of this gene each contained over 50 individuals with depression, all of whom participated in the study.

The DEP1 gene acts in a novel pathway, not previously known to be involved in the cause of depression, and may lead to a novel class of anti-depressive therapeutics. The DEP1 pathway is independent of the pathway used by the dominant class of drugs currently used to treat depression, known as Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).

"With the discovery of DEP1, Myriad and Abbott can initiate the drug development process from a strong starting point," said Peter Meldrum, President and CEO of Myriad Genetics, Inc. "We believe that the DEP1 gene and its associated pathway represent an exciting therapeutic opportunity."

"We are truly delighted that Myriad has made such rapid progress on this dramatic scientific achievement," said Brian B. Spear, Ph.D., Director of Pharmacogenomics, Abbott Laboratories. "The identification of innovative new drugs for the treatment of depression is an important goal for Abbott's Neuroscience group. Abbott and Myriad scientists are working together to identify small molecule modulators of DEP1 using the state of the art drug discovery technologies available at both companies."

The discovery of disease-causing genes provides an essential starting point for drug discovery, which is greatly expanded through the discovery of protein disease pathways. Using ProNet, Myriad's high-throughput protein interaction technology, the Company intends to identify critical protein interactions along the depression pathway.

Proteins discovered in the depression pathway offer excellent opportunities as drug targets, while providing insight into the cause and possible treatment of the disease. The collaboration will focus on functional validation of these drug targets using biological analysis with innovative technologies for evaluating the importance of a particular protein in the cause of the disease.

SSRIs include Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil, and have rapidly become the first choice of many doctors for the treatment of depression. However, the drugs can take up to six weeks to provide relief and come with side effects. Accordingly, there is a substantial market for anti-depressant drugs and there are significant improvements possible versus current therapeutics.

Myriad is pursuing a predictive medicine product from the DEP1 discovery, which could identify at-risk individuals who might then take preventive measures to avoid depression. Such a product may also prove useful in determining the class of anti-depressant used by physicians to treat diagnosed individuals as well as to differentiate the cause of depression on a medical genetic basis from the many diverse causes of the condition.

Major depression affects about 12 percent of the population in the Western world at some point in life, making it one of the most common mental illnesses and the leading cause of disability worldwide. A very high proportion of sufferers remain undiagnosed and untreated. In Europe and the Unites States, sales figures indicate that as many as 100 million prescriptions are written per year, with sales growth of around 10 percent per year over the last five years.

Much of this growth is due to the introduction of SSRIs, which are generally safer and better tolerated than older treatments. The SSRI class of drugs is now the most commonly prescribed type of anti-depressant with annual sales approaching $8 billion.

Source: Myriad Genetics

Posted: February 2003