Saturday, February 23, 2008
Recent Alnylam Patents Blur Distinction between Blunt-end dsRNAs and those with 3’ Overhangs
Although, even in the absence of applying obviousness criteria, I doubt that if Kreutzer-Limmer ultimately failed to be applied to 22-24bp RNAs, any other patent application would be able to do so based on prior art, this still raises the question whether 22-24bp RNAs will fall into a free-for-all grey zone.
While the seminal Elbashir et al. publication underlying Tuschl II provided compelling evidence that in most cases 3’ overhangs will enhance RNAi gene silencing, at least in tissue culture, recent patent application by Alnylam itself make me rethink the value of blunt-ends, particularly for in vivo applications.
At the end of January, Alnylam issued a press release on the issuance of the Woppmann patents in the UK (UK 2417727). Although I would not, by any stretch of the imagination, consider it to be an umbrella patent of the stature of Tuschl II, it is still a quite curious patent with relatively early 2003-4 priority in that it describes siRNAs with one blunt-end and one 3’ overhang end (often just one nucleotide) to have gene silencing advantages over the classical Tuschl design features (two 3’ overhangs, best if 2 nucleotides long).
I know that the following passage from the PR has caused some confusion among some of the readers of this blog, and admittedly also myself, as without carefully reading the claims of the patent it could be misunderstood as also covering dsRNAs with two blunt-ends, instead of dsRNAs combining the two features in just one molecule: ”The claims cover siRNA molecules of any length that contain "overhang" and "blunt end" design features, including siRNAs containing chemical modifications and certain novel motifs.”
Does this mean that Alnylam is back-tracking here on the value of 3’ overhangs, i.e. Tuschl II, which could have serious repercussions for the whole RNAi Therapeutics IP space and give companies like Silence Therapeutics or RXi some room to breath? The issue therefore is whether the one 1-nucleotide overhang is really that advantageous or just serves as a fig-leaf designed to disguise the value of blunt-end siRNAs. I therefore found the following passage from the description of another recent Alnylam patent application on the targeting of the Huntingtin gene by RNAi (USPTO application no. 11/588,674) of interest:
“In one embodiment, at least one end of the dsRNA has a single-stranded nucleotide overhang of 1 to 4, preferably 1 or 2 nucleotides. dsRNAs having at least one nucleotide overhang have unexpectedly superior inhibitory properties than their blunt-ended counterparts. Moreover, the present inventors have discovered that the presence of only one nucleotide overhang strengthens the interference activity of the dsRNA… dsRNA having only one overhang has proven particularly stable and effective in vivo, as well as in a variety of cells, cell culture mediums, blood, and serum.”
Maybe it should not come as a surprise that with intense research, the design features of RNAi triggers will evolve over time, somewhat reminiscent of what had happened with monoclonal antibodies before and this can only be a blessing for the realization of RNAi Therapeutics. However, from a business point of view, this raises the question what will be considered sufficiently novel or merely an improvement of a fundamental design. Clearly, at a time when many dsRNAs and also single-stranded oligonucleotides are found to be able to accomplish gene silencing via RNAi, the systematic analysis of particularly dsRNAs between ~19-25bp in length with various types of overhangs or no overhangs should be of value here. I’m almost sure this has been done already and is ongoing in other parts of the industry, but it certainly would be nice to see an unbiased publication on that very subject.
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