Saturday, January 10, 2015

Alnylam and ISIS Pharmaceuticals Divide Up a Small Lobe of the Liver Kingdom

For some time now, a GalNAc IP war has been brewing given that GalNAc conjugation has been used by both Alnylam and ISIS Pharmaceuticals to enable tremendous advances in targeting genes in the liver in an ever more potent and apparently safe and convenient manner.  This has suddenly opened the floodgate to numerous therapeutic targets (ApoCIII, Factor XI, HBV, TTR etc) and indications with gene knockdown likely to dominate drug innovation for cardiovascular, metabolic, plus a number of viral and rare genetic diseases in the years to come.

However, instead of escalating tensions, a partial armistice was declared this week when the companies announced that they will not get into each other’s hair for at least 4 gene targets in the liver.  According to the Agreement, Alnylam can use the two companies’ combined IP to support RNAi Therapeutics against the rare genetic disease targets antithrombin (for hemophilias) and ALAS-1 (for hepatic porphyrias) while ISIS can leverage the same for antisense therapeutics against factor XI (for anti-clotting) and Apo (a) (for cardiovascular disease). 

Interestingly, the press release talks about a reciprocal IP cross-licensing that extends to ‘RNA-targeting mechanism’ leaving open the possibility that Alnylam may use ISIS’ RNaseH antisense chemistry and ISIS in turn Alnylam’s siRNAs for these targets.  This would allow the companies to maximize the life-cycle opportunities for these targets by making available multiple routes of administrations (subQ, inhaled, oral) and pharmacodynamics (slow/rapid onset; different effects of gene/protein half-lives on required dosing frequencies).  Moreover, since some genes are easier targets for a given mechanism than others, chances are high that you can find a highly potent molecule with either RNAi or RNaseH ASO.   

By thus avoiding duplication of efforts and competition in the marketplace, the economic value of these targets is likely maximized.  I do not expect, however, that the truce will extend to all targets in the liver given the advanced stage and importance of for example the TTR amyloidosis programs of the two companies.  Moreover, there might be partner (e.g. Genzyme, GSK) pressures to go after certain targets no matter what.  For these targets, it will be interesting to see whether the companies will resort to patent litigation or whether they agree to merely compete in the marketplace. 

While the economic rationale is obvious, there is a scientific risk to the non-compete.  This is because you might end up with a late-stage failure, e.g. due to an unanticipated side effect related to sequence-specific off-targeting that is only seen in larger patient populations.

This, of course, would be welcome news to 3rd party competitors such as Tekmira, Arrowhead, and espcially GalNAc wannabe Dicerna who could then be the last man standing.  On the other hand, the concentration and coordinated use of the IP estates of the two juggernauts in the RNA Therapeutics space will make circumventing it more difficult to the competition.

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By Dirk Haussecker. All rights reserved.

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