Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Novartis Sells $30M Worth of Alnylam Stock


Last time I’ve checked, Novartis was not desperate for cash.  The cash-flow of Big Pharma is still one of the most impressive features of their businesses, maybe more so than their innovative juices. 

It therefore strikes me as very odd that Alnylam has just provided notice that Novartis last week sold approximately $30M worth of their stock, and has a remaining holding of $80M.  If Novartis wanted to get out of Alnylam, and worse still, RNAi Therapeutics altogether, why not sell the entire stake at once and get it over with?


For Novartis, Delivery is Now or Never

Novartis has RNAi trigger IP rights from Alnylam for 31 targets.  However, the IP, especially the Tuschl II 3’ overhang one which I consider the most valuable, albeit not gate-keeping part of that decimated estate, is ageing rapidly.  Novartis therefore needs access to some clinically viable delivery fast.  Tekmira’s systemic SNALP delivery, of course, is currently industry-leading and, also considering the IP clock (~2020-2021), is an obvious technology for Novartis to utilize.   

Indeed, Tekmira’s Complaint against Alnylam includes a charge that Alnylam allegedly manufactured SNALP LNPs for Novartis, despite the Tekmira/Protiva-Alnylam Agreement that clearly state that Tekmira is the exclusive liposome manufacturer until late-stage clinical development commences.  This would seem an easy charge to verify (note: this is a Count that is independent from the MC3 story). If so, Alnylam’s very survival would also depend on the silence of Novartis (and its other current and former Big Pharma partners).  It is also known that the Head of RNAi Therapeutics at Novartis, David Morrissey, is intimately familiar with Tekmira’s technology from a hepatitis-related collaboration when still at Sirna Therapeutics (~2004-5).

Since neither Alnylam nor Tekmira have a clinically-focused hepatitis program, I suspect that at least HepC has been picked by Novartis exclusively; HepB may be co-exclusive with Arrowhead/Mirus..hence 31 and not 30 targets.

All this leads me to the following speculation (and I emphasize that this is just my speculation, nothing more): Novartis is shifting their RNAi Therapeutics budget to invest $30M or more in delivery technology.  If that involved Tekmira's technology it could also be part of an effort to resolve the hard-fought litigation.  

Novartis’ delivery strategy is one of the industry’s best-kept secrets, but with the August 2012 Marina Biotech oligonucleotide modification deal and an estimated 60-100 employees working on RNAi Therapeutics at that company and having played the game relatively smartly compared to its Big Pharma peers Merck and Roche, which leads me to believe they are not getting out of RNAi Therapeutics (also in light of the recent clinical results), some of that secret may soon be lifted.  


8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Doesn't tkmr have a hep c collaboration:

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Sept. 12, 2011 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation (Nasdaq:TKMR) (TSX:TKM), a leading developer of RNA interference (RNAi) therapeutics, announced today a presentation of data demonstrating, for the first time, in vivo efficacy of RNAi against the Hepatitis C virus (HCV).

Tekmira along with its collaborators at SomaGenics, Inc. and Roche, presented the results in a poster entitled "Synthetic Short shRNAs are Potent Inhibitors of Hepatitis C Virus in HCV-Infected Chimeric Mice" at the 7th Annual Meeting of the Oligonucleotide Therapeutics Society (OTS) held September 8-10, 2011 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Dirk Haussecker said...

It is possible that based on the early interest in RNAi Rx in HepB/C (see Protiva-Sirna collab), that hepatitis is an area where there are co-exclusive licenses. Tekmira, however, has never stated (to my knowledge) that they have an hepB/C InterfeRx pick.

Anonymous said...

Novartis $30M to be spent on acquiring Benitec? It would pick up the rights to the Tacere HCV and Biomics HBV treatments in the process. Real cheap buying with lots of upside and little downside.

Anonymous said...

you are dreaming about Benitec

Anonymous said...

What's the downside for Novartis? Even some of the Baulcombe royalties that Alnylam will have to pay for human treatments will flow through to Benitec because of the Graham patents.

There is a good medium and longer term potential for a company like Novartis to buy and hold onto Benitec which will make $30M a drop in the ocean.

Other potential (besides Tacere and Biomics) includes Calimmume's HIV licence and Genable's RP licence.

Even if Novartis axed all the in-house Benitec programs, there would be sufficient income generated through royalties in later years to make this a safe investment. Some of their patents go out to 2025.

Anonymous said...

in 2007 Rothschild had a major stake in Benitec- why would they sell out as they did in the past 12 months?

Anonymous said...

What are Benitec's 5 InterfRx picks worth? 5 times it's current market cap?

Anonymous said...

The real value of Benitec is that hundreds of research labs around the world are using its technology for their research. Several of these are heading to the clinic and no doubt some will make it all the way to the market. This represents millions of dollars of free research that Benitec can tap into which could flow onto Novartis.

In HIV alone there are six teams in different parts of the world all working on a ddrnai solution. One is in clinical trial, another will commence Pl in the next couple of months and another next year. Researchers in China seem to be producing papers by the library full on shrna as a potential treatment for a variety of diseases. A team in Vietnam will be starting a clinical trial for treatment of breast cancer next year and Gradalis already has six clinical trials underway.

This is where the real money for buyer like Novartis would come from. Not the internal programs, although they may be profitable also.

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