Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Time for the U(nusual)siRNA Strategy Has Come

As Tekmira and Arrowhead Research will unveil their next RNAi Therapeutics development candidates later this year, an interesting question will be whether these will involve one of their RNAi trigger options that some consider to be unencumbered by fundamental IP related to traditional designs (esp. the Baulcombe and Tuschl II IP).  These decisions could have important strategic consequences for the competitive landscape, from targets and indications to Big Pharma involvement.   

Support for freedom-to-operate claim

One of these designs is the usiRNA from Marina Biotech.  These comprise at least one ‘unlocked’ nucleic acid monomer (UNA) in the double-stranded RNA molecule.  While I have reservations about the scientifically tenuous claim (see here why) that UNAs are not to be grouped with most of the other nucleotide modifications for RNAi use because they lack an intact ribose group, usiRNAs were held to be sufficiently non-obvious and of specific utility that the USPTO issued fairly broad claims in 2012.  Moreover, Marina Biotech once commissioned an external IP lawfirm perform a freedom-to-operate analysis on usiRNA, and (surprise, surprise) came to the conclusion that, indeed, usiRNAs have FTO.

Overcoming target picking limitations

This view seems to be shared also by others in the industry. Notably, Roche RNAi (now part of Arrowhead Research) in 2009 gained access to Marina’s usiRNAs, meroduplex siRNAs, and Dicer-substrate RNAi triggers.  This came as a surprise given that Roche had spent over $300M just two years earlier to gain access to RNAi trigger IP held by Alnylam.  Given that none of the three licensed RNAi trigger forms and related IP poses any FTO threat to traditional Baulcombe-Tuschl designs, the most likely explanation for the move is that it was about allowing the company to escape the target picking limitations under the license from Alnylam.  This included the 31 targets exclusively held by Novartis, some Tekmira exclusive target picks, and some targets pursued by Alnylam that Alnylam exempted from competition.  Whether the last of Alnylam’s Big Pharma licensees, Takeda, might pursue a similar strategy is an interesting question.

Facilitating platform partnerships

When Alnylam and ISIS sued Tekmira for infringing on their RNAi trigger IP by collaborating with Bristol-Myers Squibbs on RNAi delivery, it became a priority for them to have access to or control over non-Alnylam RNAi triggers.  As a consequence, they obtained an exclusive license to Halo-Bio’s multivalent RNAi triggers (more than two strands).  Subsequently, they gained access to Marina’s usiRNAs, including the ability to sublicense.   This now puts them in the position to engage in platform partnerships with Big Pharma companies that do not have access to Alnylam IP.
The same strategy would likely also apply to Arrowhead Research with its various RNAi trigger options that it inherited from Roche, especially if Alnylam provided Roche with only product-specific sublicensing rights, if at all.  As RNAi Therapeutics enjoys a return of pharmaceutical interest, this one-stop-shop option by the two leading delivery companies could be critical to bringing new companies into the space.

And for Alnylam, these developments would not only diminish the royalty it might earn from licensing its IP, they could undermine their own product candidates, including ALN-PCSK9 (hypercholesterolemia) and ALN-AT3 (hemophilia).  Accordingly, the preclinical data strongy suggest that subcutaneous DPCs can do everything that Alnylam’s GalNAcs can do, only much more potently and with less frequent dosing. 



Anonymous said...

Any reason why Arrowhead got a license from Alnylam for HBV when they had other trigger options? Also, it would make more sense for Tekmira to use trigger other then Alnylam's for their Ebola program since they are starting that program all over again from P1.

Dirk Haussecker said...

That's an excellent question. I guess the explanation is that it regards a) an internal program (platform sublicensing not at issue) and b)the target pick apparently was still available. So maybe not worth it to rock the boat for that one. TKM-EBOLA 2...multi-valent RNAi triggers could make a lot of sense here (2 targets involved) if they have adequate efficacy.

Anonymous said...

Talking IP, Benitec pr'd today they have received further
allowances in various jurisdictions. And the UK objection by an anonymous third party (gee wonder who), has been dropped.

Anonymous said...


Not worth the risk to try something else at first.

TKRM ebola:

they are using the multi valent version in the next P1

Anonymous said...

Dirk - Your blog is a great resource, thanks for your insights.. I saw on your Twitter acct that TKMR is one of 2 RNAi firms youre currently long.

Whats the other one?

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