The recent share price performances of RNAi Therapeutics companies have confirmed that clinical data have become the critical new bar for investors. Even discounting the fact that biotech in general has performed well this year, it is clear that the SNALP-enabled clinical phase I results for ALN-TTR01 (transthyretin amyloidosis) and ALN-PCS02 (hypercholesterolemia) have had the desired impact on the share prices of Tekmira and Alnylam: +57.5% and +73.5% increases since the ALN-TTR01 results were announced in November ’11, respectively. Moreover, the recent $80M+ financing by Alnylam, and to a smaller degree the $4M private placement by Tekmira, underline that new money is flowing into these companies.
Other companies have had a harder time. In fact, with the market capitalizations of Marina Biotech and microRNA Dx company Rosetta Genomics reaching a point where the companies become increasingly unsustainable, and
Here a quick run-down of the companies:
Tekmira: SNALP systemic delivery technology has emerged as the major value driver in the industry. Overly focused on technical progress rather than brand building, Tekmira is still fighting with a market perception that because it’s market cap is so small (<$40M), Alnylam must rightfully have full ownership of Tekmira’s technology. Especially the analyst community has largely been ignoring their position, but it looks like the courts are starting to see through Alnylam’s strategy (e.g. here). The recent financing will give Tekmira some breathing room albeit at the cost of further dilution. Besides the litigation, additional clinical results from the TKM-PLK1, TKM-EBOLA, ALN-TTR, and ALN-PCS02 programs expected this year will be critical to Tekmira shareholders.
Alnylam: Good clinical execution with its new crop of SNALP-enabled therapeutic candidates. One year after announcing 5x15TM, the company has become much more narrowly focused on introducing only a select few products in the market itself. This, and the recent financing, could be interpreted as preparing for a potentially adverse outcome to the Tekmira litigation, but it is also a structure that will allow the company to sell itself more easily. This is in stark contrast to the strategy of antisense partner/competitor ISIS Pharmaceuticals which has stretched itself out onto so many different therapeutic areas and partnerships that it is difficult to see that company being acquired any time soon.
The successful offering has confirmed once again that Alnylam is well connected in the biotech financial machinery. After receiving upgrades and (re-)newed analyst attention from the likes of Leerink Swann (!- because of the infamous 2008 report on the company), MLV, and Rodman and Renshaw, the company reciprocated by letting them all participate in the offering. As a shareholder of Tekmira, this to me is frustrating as these analysts would never say a critical word about Alnylam’s position with regard to the Tekmira litigation. And, of course, the legal process is not exactly fair when a cash-rich company apparently does its best to delay the litigation so that it can financially outlast its ‘small’ opponent.
Continued positive clinical results will be important to extend the positive trend in ALNY, but all bets are off as we approach the late October 2012 trial date with Tekmira.
Arrowhead Research: The company arguably made a good deal with the acquisition of the Roche RNAi Therapeutics assets for a few pennies on the dollar originally paid by Roche. Critical to the success of that company will be how quickly DPC delivery technology is ready for clinical development. The absence of peer-reviewed non-human primate data and knowledge of how advanced DPC manufacturing is increases the risk that the DPC-enabled HBV program may take longer to enter clinical development than hoped for.
Silence Therapeutics: Following promising phase I data with Atu027 for solid cancer and positive developments on the IP front, recent developments were not so positive. Most discouragingly, Thomas Christely unexpectedly resigned after only a short stint as the CEO. In the absence of any cogent explanation besides the usual ‘personal reasons’, one may come to the conclusion that after the 6-month data delay with Atu027 and the apparent failure to extend the critical AstraZeneca and Dainippon Sumitomo collaborations, another painful round of dilution may be inevitable.
Benitec: The fortunes of that company are looking up as Gradalis and Calimmune are progressing their ddRNAi Therapeutics products. Just this morning, Benitec announced that Calimmune has taken a non-exclusive license to Benitec’s ddRNAi IP for HIV/AIDS. It is critical to Benitec’s strategy to make sure that the early ddRNAi candidates that are in or close to the clinic are licensed under their IP. As its fundamental Graham IP matures, however, it will have to wean itself off its focus on IP and instead execute on product development. Particularly the pain program looks promising here.
Marina Biotech and Rosetta Genomics: With their tiny market caps of $2.5-5.0M, it becomes increasingly difficult to further justify their coverage. It’s a pity because some of their technologies have some value. The erratic strategies of these companies, however, seem to have destroyed all investor confidence.
If mipomersen does not get approved for anything beyond hoFH and/or does not sell well, the company’s strategy of giving away value early in development could start to hurt as it will be some time until another in-house development candidate can reach regulatory approval.