Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Pfizer and Quark Progress RNAi Therapeutic for Diabetic Macular Edema into Phase II
The 160-person safety and efficacy trial follows phase I/II studies conducted by Quark that showed the drug to be safe and well tolerated in patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD). Similar to DME which affects about 10% of type I and II diabetics, wet AMD is caused by the growth of leaky blood vessels in the back of the eye leading to blurred vision, and in some cases blindness. For this reason, it is not uncommon that a given compound is being tested for both indications.
The reason that Pfizer has chosen DME instead of wet AMD as the indication for this trial may be related to the fact that the wet AMD RNAi Therapeutics space has become crowded with Opko Health and Sirna Therapeutics/Merck having wet AMD RNAi Therapeutics in phase III and II studies, respectively. Opko Health also has a phase II study for DME using the same compound. It may also be related to the recent controversy caused by a Nature paper that showed that dsRNA-triggered immune responses alone may be anti-angiogenic in a mouse model for wet AMD and that this may have led to mis-interpretations of data from related pre-clinical RNAi Therapeutics studies.
However, PF-4523655 is unlike Sirna’s and Opko’s compounds in that it is intended to prevent abnormal blood vessel growth and leakage in a VEGF-independent manner. It is also a 19bp blunt-ended compound and therefore unlikely to trigger non-specific TLR3 responses (21bp seems to be the cut-off where you have to take TLR3 signaling into account). I trust that the former Coley Pharmaceutical’s folks with their deep understanding of TLR biology and that are now running the RNAi Therapeutics show at Pfizer will have closely looked at the issue.
Quark received an undisclosed amount for the initiation of the trials, Silence Therapeutics which had originally licensed the AtuRNAi technology to Quark collected $1.9M, and Alnylam from which a technology license was subsequently obtained on Pfizer’s insistence another undisclosed amount. Clearly, with today's allowance of Silence Therapeutics’ 10/633630 patent in the US which specifically claims AtuRNAi molecules of 18 or 19 base-pairs the IP battles are about to begin, and will be addressed in a follow-up blog entry. In any case, it is an interesting coincidence that the initiation of the phase II studies and the patent allowance occurred on the same day.
Independent of all these patent issues, I look forward to the results of this compound which has the makings of a safe and differentiated RNAi Therapeutic for DME.
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