Sunday, November 11, 2007

When Will Pfizer Finally Make its Big Move in RNAi Therapeutics?

This week, Pfizer crossed my RNAi Therapeutics radar twice again. One has to do with their much-anticipated biotechnology initiative, including an innovation center in the San Francisco Bay Area which, according to news reports, should have RNAi Therapeutics as one of its focus areas. As we all know, Big Pharma has come under pressure with upcoming patent expirations, declining drug approvals due to a conservative FDA and outdated pipelines, but actually has the cash to invest in much needed innovation. The other event was a recurring rumor about their interest in Silence Therapeutics which led to a rapid 25% increase in the shares of the UK/German RNAi Therapeutics outfit in a matter of only two trading days.

Just watching Pfizer’s actions in RNAi Therapeutics from a distance is quite curious. Initially, they appeared to be toying around with DNA-directed shRNAs, but then engaged in a triangular relationship for developing an RNAi Therapeutics for AMD with Quark and Silence based on Silence’ AtuRNAi-type of siRNAs and Quark’s identified target gene. Pfizer also appears to be scouting out RNAi delivery solutions with a deal earlier this year with Mirus Bio that was followed by a neat publication on hepatocyte-specific RNAi delivery in PNAS (see 24 July 2007 Blog: ”Mirus Scientists Publish Elegant Paper on Targeted siRNA Delivery to Hepatocytes”). Around the same time, I counted at least seven delegates from Pfizer at thie year’s leading RNAi Keystone conference who, I suspect, weren’t there just to satisfy their scientific curiosity.

It seems prudent for Pfizer to learn more about the potential for RNAi Therapeutics first-hand through smaller collaborations with groups that have demonstrated know-how in RNAi Therapeutics before committing more significant resources. On the other hand, if they really saw potential in the technology and given their balance sheet, it would appear that the longer they wait the costlier the licenses that Novartis, Roche, and others regard as a must for freedom-to-operate. Particularly with the recent Alnylam-Roche deal, the pressure among Big Pharma is only going to increase. With Merck’s chair now empty at Alnylam’s table, Silence up for sale, and the their biotech initiative taking shape, I wonder whether Pfizer is going to get serious and make their move soon.


Peter said...

Yes, this was a prescient post. Why do you say they "initially appeared to toying around with DNA directed shRNAs?"

Dirk Haussecker said...

I may wrong, but I was guessing since they were taking a license from Sigma/Benitec early this year, which caused Benitec shares to temporarily triple, that they definitely saw promise in ddRNAi. I should add, however, that the license was for research applications only, as you may know. But isn't that the history of RNAi, first you try it for gene function analysis and target validation, then you realise, hey, why don't I use it as a therapeutic directly? Subsequent dealings and publications of collaborators, however, made it look like siRNAs would be their primary tool for therapeutic purposes. Time will tell.

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