One apparent tactic employed by Alnylam in the ongoing litigation with Tekmira is not to win on arguments, but by coming out with 'revelations' aimed at unsettling Tekmira investors and potential collaborators. A weakened share price and financial position would supposedly make Tekmira more amenable to a light settlement or lowball takeover offer. Much of this has been discussed on this blog before, but today I would like to bring to the attention of the readers here one particularly grave and damaging remark that Alnylam made in their Response to the Amended Complaint, namely that the one case of immunostimulation in the phase I ApoB study that caused Tekmira to stop the trial was ‘life-threatening’:
From the Response:
From the Response:
‘Further, Alnylam invited Tekmira to join a joint development committee that Alnylam had formed with one of its pharmaceutical partners with the goal of assisting Tekmira and the whole field in advancing LNP technology. Moreover, it is through clinical trials conducted, mainly by Alnylam, that critical elements of Tekmira’s siRNA delivery technology have been validated in the clinic, and Alnylam has provided critical advice and counsel to Tekmira related to their pre-clinical and clinical development activities for their own products. For example, Alnylam’s chief medical officer provided critical and urgent counsel to clinicians attending to a patient in a Tekmira clinical trial that experienced a serious, life-threatening adverse reaction to Tekmira’s drug [emphasis mine].'
Not only does Alnylam make it sound like they are holding little Tekmira’s hands, have the new Chief Medical Officer rush to inept Tekmira's help, and more or less run the trials for them, this statement essentially accuses Tekmira of lying to investors and in front of regulators about the adverse event. These are very serious allegations, some of which by the way were part of the rumor mill even before Alnylam made these statements now in public (!).
These characterizations are in sharp contrast to the way Tekmira used to describe them: serious enough to be taken into consideration for future SNALP development, but not a show-stopper and certainly not life-threatening. Here is how:
Disclosure of adverse event in the phase I ApoB press release:
‘The primary endpoints of the ApoB SNALP Phase 1 clinical trial were measures of safety and tolerability. ApoB SNALP was well tolerated overall in this study with no evidence of liver toxicity, which was the anticipated dose-limiting toxicity observed in preclinical studies. Of the two subjects treated at the highest dose level, one subject experienced flu-like symptoms consistent with stimulation of the immune system caused by the ApoB siRNA payload. The other subject treated at the highest dose level experienced no side effects. Based on the potential for the immune stimulation to interfere with further dose escalation, Tekmira decided to conclude the trial [emphasis mine].’
If the adverse event had been ‘life-threatening’, then not disclosing this in the press release and subsequent investor discussions would obviously have been misleading.
The clinical details of the adverse event were then disclosed at the Drug Information Association '3rd Oligonucleotide-based Therapeutics Conference' held in
‘Adverse Event in Suject 190:
- Second in cohort to be treated with 0.6 mg/kg
- Tolerated infusion well
- ~2.5 hours felt ‘wobbly in legs’
- ~4 hours rigors, vomiting, fever, hypotension, hypoxia, HR 110 BPM
- Treated with Ibuprofin, O2, saline infusion
- Fever resolved in 3 hours
- ~5 hours BP reached nadir
- Patient continued to receive fluids
- IV methylprednisolone (120mg)
- BP, HR, O2 Sat improved
- Patient normal that night
- Returned to study unit the next morning
- Discharged the next day as per protocol
- Patient maintained perfect cogntion throughout episode
Event described as moderate in severity and related to study drug [emphasis mine].'
The account above is consistent with characterizing the event as ‘moderate’ and in no way suggests a ‘life-threatening’ event. While not exactly encouraging, such safety findings are common in clinical trials.
I’m confident that if this comes to trial, this damaging characterization of the ApoB trial will add another few millions to the damages awarded to Tekmira. I simply cannot believe that Tekmira’s management would risk getting in trouble with the SEC and FDA in such a way. There simply is no middle-ground. I know Tekmira shareholders are getting tired of hearing this, an attitude attesting to the success of Alnylam's tactics.
In related News: Alnylam guides down cash as ALN-VSP02 wraps up
Alnylam reported Q2 financial results after the close yesterday. Months after the departure of the former CFO and following the $150M shelf filing, the replacement had the pleasure of announcing that Alnylam is guiding down cash from ‘greater than $275M’ guided 3 and 6 months ago to now ‘greater than $250M’. No explanations were provided for the implied 50% increase in net burn. I hope that the new CFO has retained his ‘sense of humor’- apparently a job requirement at Alnylam [correction 5 August, 2011: in the conference call that followed the press release of the financial results the increase in expenditures were attributed largely to the 5x15TM efforts; not very illuminating really, but there was an explanation].
On the day of the financial results, Alnylam also disclosed that it has completed the phase I study in liver cancer with ALN-VSP02. There was no real new development in this study from the comprehensive data presented at this year’s ASCO (related blog here). What I noticed though is that this drug candidate has now been fully renamed ALN-VSP, dropping the '02' which may have been a painful reminder that Alnylam got all its clinically-relevant LNP delivery from Tekmira [hint: my strong impression based on the VSP conflicts that emerged 4 years ago with the remarks by David Bumcrot is that ‘01’ was a lipidoid formulation, and the ‘02’ formulation resulted from Alnylam giving up and seeking help from Protiva (now part of Tekmira, of course)].