Monday, January 7, 2008

Breaking News: Pfizer Licenses DNA-directed RNAi Program for HCV from Tacere Therapeutics

Representing the first major DNA-directed RNAi licensing deal to date by Big Pharma, Tacere Therapeutics announced today licensing of its late preclinical-stage AAV-RNAi HCV program, TT-033, to Pfizer. Detailed terms were not disclosed, but Tacere will be eligible for up to $145 in development milestones, plus royalties on sales of drugs. Pfizer will assume all development work and cost.

TT-033 consists of an adeno-associated viral vector (AAV) expressing small hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) that are expressed from the viral vector. The shRNAs are processed by the RNAi machinery to yield small interfering RNAs that target the HCV RNA. This vector is devoid of any viral protein-encoding gene and has proven extremely efficient in transducing liver cells in mice and in many cases effecting almost complete gene knockdown. Tacere acquired the rights to TT-033 from Benitec when Benitec, due to funding problem, downsized and left the US in 2006. Benitec retains a stake in both Tacere and TT-033.

With today’s announcement, Pfizer is continuing is strategy of small, but deliberate RNAi technology deals. Tacere is a Bay Area company and close to Pfizer’s new Bioinnovation Center in South San Francisco. Last year, Pfizer made clear that it wants to become a major player in RNAi Therapeutics as part of its biotechnology initiative. It will now be interesting to watch whether Pfizer will take a broad technology license from Alnylam to protect all of its ongoing RNAi projects (Alnylam announced today that it is confident to close at least 2 major Roche-type technology licensing deals in the not-to-distant future).

The deal is a validation of AAV technology for gene therapy. AAV has shown great promise in addressing the RNAi delivery challenge for a number of organs, including the liver, brain, and eye. Benitec, Tacere, and Targeted Genetics currently have significant interests in AAV-mediated RNAi.

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By Dirk Haussecker. All rights reserved.

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