Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More RNAi Therapeutics Deals by Alnylam and Silence Therapeutics

Silence Therapeutics and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals hardly let a week go past without announcing partnership news leveraging their IP position in the RNAi Therapeutics arena.

When Alnylam and the medical device company Medtronic announced their initial partnership in 2005, the plan was to evaluate Medtronic’s CNS drug delivery devices for use with RNAi Therapeutics (see July 22, 2007 Blog: “Looking Ahead: Alnylam-Medtronic Alliance Stop-Go Decision Expected Soon”), and a joint decision on whether to continue pursuing such drug-device combinations would then be made in 2007.

Yesterday, the companies announced that the progress to date, particularly in their pre-clinical program for Huntington’s disease, warranted a continuation of their partnership. Simultaneously, the original terms of the agreement were amended as a 50:50 relationship in the US, while Medtronic will be solely responsible for development and commercialisation in Europe. It is not clear, however, whether Medtronic will make a $1-8M equity investment in Alnylam as under the original agreement. If not, the new deal structure might reflect the greater flexibility gained by Alnylam through their strong financial position, especially in the wake of the Roche alliance 2 weeks ago.

Such details should become available during next week’s Q2 conference call. Meanwhile, the decision to pursue this alliance further speaks to the promise of RNAi Therapeutics for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

In a similar development, Silence Therapeutics announced a deepening of their existing partnership with Quark Biotech. Quark Biotech, which only very recently dropped their ambitious plans to go public, has two ongoing clinical programs with siRNAs licensed from Silence. In the new agreement, Quark obtains non-exclusive rights to develop RNAi Therapeutics for three gene targets using Silence Therapeutics’ AtuRNAi platform. Details of the deal were not available, but it does not appear to involve a significant upfront cash payment to Silence. Although the deal sizes by Silence Therapeutics pale in comparison to those of Alnylam, at least some of their partners appear to be convinced that Silence’s AtuRNAi technology is sufficiently distinct from Tuschl’s siRNAs to be worth paying money for. It could also mean, however, that some are unwilling or unable to meet the terms that Alnylam can ask for now.

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By Dirk Haussecker. All rights reserved.

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