Wednesday, December 18, 2013

ISIS Demonstrates Wider Utility of RNaseH ASOs for Nuclear Targets

While research astounds us on a daily basis with unexpected discoveries, sometimes it is what we don’t know and haven’t bothered to ask is what is astounding.  One example of the latter in the field of Oligonucleotide Therapeutics is the poor understanding of which tissues and cell types and therefore disease indications are most appropriate for a particular (delivery) approach based on the ability to engage targets there.   

Antisense Therapeutics, over 30 years in the making, has been the biggest violator of this principle.  Smug in the belief that delivery is not necessary, the approach has been to just apply the oligonucleotide and then pray that it will go to the right place and work its magic, especially in cancers.  Only after decades, the field through much clinical trial and error has come to the realization that the liver and kidney may be pharmacologically favored target organs.

In a long overdue tour-de-force, Hung and colleagues from ISIS Pharmaceuticals recently published in the journal Nucleic Acid Therapeutics a detailed investigation of the global biodistribution and RNaseH knockdown efficacy of phosphorotioate antisense chemistries (PS-ASO) following systemic application: Characterization of target mRNA reduction through in situ RNA hybridization in multiple organ systems following systemic antisense treatment in animals. This parallels a similar study for the direct application of this chemistry to the CNS presented at this year's OTS meeting which has yielded the surprising insight of the broad CNS distribution of PS-ASOs following focal administration. 

As a result of the latest research, a roadmap of target organs was created.  Importantly, through the application of newer RNA immunohistochemistry methods rather than the old harvesting and mashing up organs, the study looked at the specific cell types within an organ that were amenable to RNaseH knockdown.  This is important in at least two ways.  Firstly, it allows us to reject a potential target in organs where bulk knockdowns have shown a rather deep knockdown, but where the detailed organ analysis shows that the particular cell type in which one desired the knockdown does not show such a knockdown (e.g. kidney).  Secondly, it allows one to reconsider targets and cell types within organs for which bulk knockdowns have not been observed (e.g. the small intestines).

Another valuable piece of insight of the study was that it compared the old, second-generation 2’ MOE chemistry with the higher affinity locked nucleic acid chemistry version pioneered by Santaris (in this case the cET ISIS knock-off version of LNAs).  In addition to increasing the knockdown potency in traditional tissues such as liver, kidney, and adipose tissue, the chemistry allows for appreciable knockdowns in some less traditional tissues such as muscles.  Unfortunately, the direct comparison between 2’ MOE and LNAs was only performed in mice and at the very high 50mg/kg dose.  In the non-human primate study, also at a very high (35mg/kg) dose, no such direct comparison was  performed and from this, it seems that the new organs enabled by the higher-affinity chemistries were limited to the muscle and lung.

Why Marina Biotech could be the 2014 high-flyer

Regular readers will notice that I have shifted some of my investment attention to Marina Biotech.  The main reason for this is that this company which is considered by many to be dead, actually owns the rights to a high-affinity ASO chemistry (CRN) of a potency that is equivalent to Santaris’ LNAs and probably superior to ISIS’ cET while the market cap of Marina is just one-thousandth that of ISIS Pharmaceuticals.  Even when one considers that the in vivo safety (especially) and potency evaluations lag behind the others due to the budget constraints of Marina Bio, I believe it is a risk worth taking given the enormous valuation gap and the fact that CRN PS-ASO biodistributions and activities can be assumed to be similar to the competing chemistries.

What is more, Marina Bio is pursuing a program in type I myotonic dystrophy which represents the sweet spot of indications uniquely facilitated by these chemistries: muscle as a new druggable target organ and still shielded from superior RNAi competition; a rare, severe orphan disease; and a toxic nuclear RNA.

Largely depending on the recapitalization strategy (partnering first before capital raise or vice versa), this program together with SMARTICLE RNAi delivery and access to usiRNAi triggers, has made me accumulate 1.5% of the company with the intention of increasing my position.  Of course, financial success can only happen if other investors share my view that we should therefore give Marina Bio another chance.  As always, invest at your own risk and according to your unique financial circumstances.

A shameful title

If you re-read the title of the paper and even the entire publication, you may be forgiven for going away with the impression that it is open season for RNaseH knockdown in muscles and other tissues and organs.  This is far from the truth as the ‘exemplary’ target chosen in the study was the nuclear non-coding RNA MALAT.   This is because a high-profile Nature publication by ISIS Pharmaceuticals itself (Wheeler et al. 2012) has shown that whereas largely cytoplasmic m-e-s-s-e-n-g-e-r RNAs (i.e. RNAs encoding for proteins as even a decent high-school kid will know) expressed in muscles were entirely recalcitrant to RNase H knockdown, the mutated nuclear retained DMPK underlying myotonic dystrophy was susceptible to such action.  Curiously, while Wheeler et al. was cited in the Hung paper, the authors failed to point out this important and very obvious caveat.

This can be no innocuous omission as ISIS Pharmaceuticals in one of their patent applications has expressed the striking difference between mRNA and nuclear RNA druggability by PS-ASOs as follows (highlights are mine):

Reduction of Nuclear-Retained RNA

Data provided herein demonstrates that sensitivity to cleavage by ASOs is dramatically increased for a nuclear-retained RNA making it possible to reduce nuclear-retained targets in tissue that has low uptake of oligonucleotide by a pharmacologically relevant amount. For example, out of the more than 4,000 transcripts that Isis has targeted by antisense, MALAT1, a non-coding, nuclear-retained RNA, is demonstrated to be one of the most sensitive targets for antisense oligonucleotide/RNase H inhibition. The data demonstrate a great number of oligonucleotides targeting over the majority of the transcript that inhibit by more than 50% in vitro. The data also demonstrates very low IC50 values in multiple cell types. Half-life studies have also shown that the MALAT1 is stable over a period of at least 10 hours. Subcutaneous administration of oligonucleotide targeting MALAT1 at doses commensurate with other oligonucleotide drugs (e.g., liver targeting drugs) achieved pharmacologically relevant reduction of MALAT1 in skeletal and cardiac muscle. Dosing at 50 mg/kg biweekly for 3.5 weeks achieved a 89% and 85% reduction in gastrocnemius and quadriceps, respectively, and 54% reduction in heart (as compared to 95% reduction in liver). Pharmacologically relevant reduction of MALAT1 has also been achieved in tumor xenograft models.

As a member of the Oligonucleotide Therapeutics Society, it greatly saddens me that the related journal is letting ISIS Pharmaceuticals get away with the highly misleading, and simply wrong title.  There is no arguing around it.  Followers of the competitive oligonucleotide therapeutics investment arena know that the game here is to make RNaseH antisense appear much more widely applicable than it actually is.  What is more, it was at the 2011 OTS meeting in Boston where the ISIS CEO Stan Crooke in his keynote made the ignonimous statement that ‘mipomersen has no side effects’.  

I strongly suggest to the society and the journal Nucleic Acid Therapeutics which are supposed to foster the development of the technology broadly to keep a watchful eye on the growing corporate influence, especially by 'generous sponsors' ISIS and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.   


Anonymous said...

Wording of the paper title aside....

If I understand correctly, you are also saying that...

* Isis has ONLY reported sufficient (i.e., 50% or greater) knock down of a nuclear retained target RNA (e.g., MALAT1) in muscle with either the MOE or Gen 2.5 chemistry in a preclinical research model, but alternatively...

* has not reported the same extent of knock down for a cytoplasmic mRNA target in muscle with either chemistry in a preclinical research model….correct?

So that is my first question, just to make sure I understand you correctly.

Second question, related to the 1st would be....

* would you classify 50% or greater knock down of scavenger receptor B1 (SR-B1) mRNA in muscle as fulfilling the aforementioned cytoplasmic mRNA target knock down criteria, since nuclear retained MALAT1 did not?

If I’m on the same page with you in regards to my 1st question and your answer is yes to the 2nd question, then what is stated in my last bullet-point has indeed been reported in Nucleic Acids Research with the Gen 2.5 chemistry (and also with tcDNA gapmer oligonucleotide chemistry, which is of course not an Isis chemistry).

Conversely, as expected, and as alluded to in your post, in this Nucleic Acids Research article, Isis themselves reported MOE chemistry did not meet the 50% or greater knock down in any muscle tissue evaluated.

Dirk Haussecker said...

OK, let's just ignore the title. Are you serious? The title is the major issue with the paper. It is simply WRONG and very conveniently misleading.

So after asking me to ignore the elephant in the room, you are inviting me to splitting hairs with you? Oh yes, somewhere for some gene ISIS has shown some type of mediocre knockdown at therapeutically irrelevant doses?

May I ask you to read the ISIS patent application where they state that 'the sensitivity to cleavage by ASOs is DRAMATICALLY increased for a nuclear-retained RNA' (emphasis mine). So if there are dramatic differences how can the nuclear non-coding MALAT RNA be a proxy for mRNAs?

I'm sorry to tell you, but ISIS ain't no saints.

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