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A Biotech Field of Dreams?

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Bringing a powerhouse in crop science together with a powerhouse in RNAi certainly sounds like a good idea. Unfortunately, there just isn't enough information in the press release to know if the deal between Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ALNY  ) is a good one.

The agriculture giant is paying Alnylam $29.2 million up front for its platform technology and IP. From the sound of it, Monsanto doesn't plan to develop crops that incorporate the RNAi technology, which is used to shut off genes. Instead, it plans to use Alnylam's technology to develop agricultural biologics, natural alternatives to chemical pesticides and herbicides.

RNAi drugs being developed for human treatments are infused into a patient, where they're incorporated into cells and turn off (or at least down) the expression of a gene that's facilitating a disease. I have a hard time seeing how RNAi could be effective being sprayed directly on plants because of stability and concentration issues.

More likely, Monsanto plans to use RNAi to facilitate the production of agricultural biologics. There might be a virus that attacks crop-killing bacteria that Monsanto would like to sell. Turning off a gene in the virus or the host bacteria used to grow the bacteria might make it much easier to produce the virus in large quantities.

A broad license should provide multiple opportunities to develop products and keep Monsanto ahead of its peers Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW  ) and DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) . Monsanto's license is exclusive for agriculture -- Alnylam has licensed its technology to other drug companies -- so its competition will have to find another way to develop competing products.

For Alnylam, which doesn't have any products on the market, topping off the coffers will help delay (or maybe eliminate) the need for dilutive financing. The biotech is also due milestone payments and royalties on products developed. Monsanto is also picking up the tab for research efforts that Alnylam puts into their collaboration. Part of Alnylam's IP was licensed from Isis Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ISIS  ) , so it'll have to share $1.4 million of the up-front payment with Isis as well as a portion of royalty and milestone payments.

Often for competitive reasons, investors sometimes don't get much information on partnerships. Investors just have to trust that management knows what they're doing and wait to see what kind of products come out of this partnership.

Looking for more high-tech stock ideas? Check out the Fool's free report "The Next Trillion-Dollar Revolution," where you'll find a company quietly cashing in on the booming smartphone market. Click here to get your free copy.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli holds no position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a modified stock repair against synthetic long position in Monsanto. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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