Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mirna Therapeutics Brings First MicroRNA Replacement Therapy into Clinic

It has been a long wait, but 5 years following the initiation of anti-miR122 development for the treatment of HCV infection by Santaris, a second microRNA Therapeutics has now entered clinical development.  MRX34 by Mirna Therapeutics is a miR-34a replacement therapy for the treatment of liver cancer or cancers with liver involvement.  
MicroRNA replacement therapy is technically very similar to RNAi Therapeutics.  It involves adding to cells naturally occurring microRNAs to orchestrate typically a range of processes deemed to be therapeutic.  It is added to cells in the form of double-stranded RNA triggers very much alike RNAi triggers and can therefore largely utilize the same types of delivery approaches.  The delivery technology for MRX34 is the NOV340 SMARTICLE technology owned by Marina Biotech.  This liposomal delivery technology is distinct from SNALP, most notably by employing ionizable ‘amphoteric’ lipids, lipids that can take on both positive and negative charge depending on pH, and not ionizable cationic lipids, lipids that merely become positively charged at acidic pH, as in the case of SNALPs. 
An extensive literature supports miR-34a as an exciting microRNA for replacement therapy in cancer rivaling the most famous let-7.  Accordingly, miR-34 emerged as Mirna Therapeutics’ top priority based on extensive screening conducted at Ambion (now Life Technologies) from which Mirna Therapeutics was spun out.  Under transcriptional control by the guardian of the genome, p53, its pleiotropic effects range from cell cycle inhibition, to counter-acting anti-apoptotic mechanisms and to sensitizing towards chemotherapy.  The choice of liver-related cancers was thus not based on cancer biology (many cancers cancers would apply), but largely a function of where the company thinks NOV340 can deliver to.
This to me raises again the question of whether liver cancer is closer to normal liver or whether it is closer to solid tumors in general in terms of delivery.  MRX34 thus follows Alnylam’s reasonings as manifested by ALN-VSP02, but goes against what is known about blood supply differences between normal liver and liver cancer and what is practiced by the likes of Tekmira and Dicerna.
The phase I study will be a typical dose-escalation study seeking to determine the maximally tolerated dose.  Given the importance of delivery, close attention should be paid to the pharmacokinetic and biodistribution data from this trial.  These should start to become available in the first half of 2014.
The development is positive for at least two other companies.  As the provider of the delivery technology, Marina Biotech obviously stands to gain financially and otherwise from such clinical milestones.  Whether it will be sufficient to pay off its debts that have come due and consequently avert bankruptcy is an open question.  Due to the financial distress, Marina Biotech struggled to enter into deals giving it fair compensation for its technology.
Although the most direct competitor to Mirna Therapeutics, InteRNA as the other major microRNA replacement company in oncology should also benefit from the initiation of the phase I study as it helps to validate its approach.  The question will be whether among its stable of microRNA replacement candidates, there are some with as robust activities as miR-34a.   

BMS Partners with Santaris
In other recent news related to microRNA Therapeutics, Big Pharma Bristol-Myers Squibb partnered with LNA antisense company Santaris under which the Danish company collected $10M upfront.  Although the press release did not specify much the aims of the the alliance, referring to RNA Therapeutics broadly, a few factors speak in favor of microRNAs being involved.  
Most notably, BMS had terminated an phosphorothioate RNaseH antisense collaboration with ISIS Pharmaceuticals.  As Santaris in turn had terminated their PCSK9 phosphorothioate RNaseH antisense program as well, most likely due to kidney toxicity (--> phosphorothioate chemistry as also in Prosensa; van Poelgeest et al. 2013), the first suspicion that BMS sought out Santaris as a more potent PCSK9 alternative becomes less compelling.  Moreover, ISIS Pharmaceuticals is suing Santaris over US patent infringement of RNaseH technology which should hinder the ability of Santaris to enter into relationships with US companies for RNaseH antisense purposes.  Of course, the deal could also indicate that a settlement is in the making...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What do you think will happen to Marina Biotech? They have an interesting collection of technologies including CEQ508 with orphan drug status. Usirna technology is also important to Tekmira. They could be hugely successful if they could just find $10 million in funding.

By Dirk Haussecker. All rights reserved.

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