Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dicerna Keeps Searching for Its Identity

Dicerna Pharmaceuticals recent move from Watertown to Cambridge is symbolic for its continued search for a place in the RNAi Therapeutics landscape.  Following some setbacks in its cancer and home-brew LNP efforts, the company now pins its hope on that it can compete head-on with Alnylam in the development of GalNAc-RNAi trigger conjugates for gene knockdown in the liver.

Oncology on hold

Like others in the field, confidence in its cancer program (DCR-MYC in phase I/II studies for solid cancers and HCC) seems to be low.  In the absence of clear-cut early development-stage cancer responses and confirmation of bona fide tumor-wide gene knockdown, cancer drug development remains a hit-and-usually-miss for the Oligonucleotide Therapeutics industry.

As a result, Dicerna seems to view their own mouse data with skepticism just as I myself have yet to see data supporting tumor penetration and bona fide knockdown in well-controlled studies.  The company has to be credited that it is now setting the bar for DCR-MYC quite high when clinical data from higher-dose cohorts is expected to emerge around year-end.  If DCR-MYC does not make the cut, Dicerna will likely cut its losses in cancer drug development and LNP research in general.

DCR-PH1 close call

Dicerna management was also surprisingly frank about their hesitations about the technical success of their most interesting current program, namely DCR-PH1 for the treatment of hyperoxaluria type I. 
After reviewing the latest non-human primate studies, it now appears that at least an 85% mRNA knockdown of the HAO-1 target gene will be required to see the key oxalate biomarkers ‘move’, and over 90% for more robust movement.  Based on rodent data, the company had thought that 75% might be sufficient.

In NHP studies of DCR-PH1, an 84% average peak knockdown was seen following a single dose of 0.3mg/kg of a Tekmira SNALP LNP formulation with 68% knockdown remaining at week 4.  0.3mg/kg seems to be the current well-tolerated upper dose of Tekmira’s LNP formulations and almost identical (protein) knockdowns were observed with 0.3mg/kg of Tekmira LNP-formulated ALN-TTR02. 

In clinical 3-weekly multi-dose studies of ALN-TTR02, this translated into sustained 80-85% target gene knockdowns.  This means that Dicerna now relies on the safety of DCR-PH1 to allow for doses of around 0.5mg/kg.  Not impossible, but probably a close call given the history of SNALP LNP and further exposes DCR-PH1 to competitive threats.

GalNAcs coming

Given the stage of their internal cancer and LNP efforts, Dicerna is now pinning its hopes on taking on Alnylam with GalNAc-RNAi trigger.  This is where Dicerna is currently investing most of its R&D efforts in.

It has now disclosed non-human primate data from those efforts, with 5 consecutive daily doses of 2.5mg/kg GalNAc-Dicer substrates resulting in ~70% knockdown of HAO-1 2-3 weeks after this loading dose.  Given the larger molecular size of the extended Dicer-substrates versus Tuschl-type siRNAs, this corresponds on a molar basis to ~1.5mg/kg of Alnylam’s GalNAc-siRNAs.  

This is somewhat less than what Alnylam presented for their PH1 program at OTS 2014 (ED80s in rodents of ~2.5mg/kg weekly) and Dicerna's GalNAcs would seem to require some further refinements to be competitive.

But in this case, they will end up with something that has little pharmacological distinction, is 3-4 years behind Alnylam, which in turn is not shy to put legal/IP pressure on its competition.

In my opinion, Dicerna management and Board need to put in quality time to find their true identity.

Disclosure: I am short DRNA as a relative valuation short for my ARWR long position. DRNA has a slightly larger market cap than ARWR, but ARWR has a distinguished, more mature DPC pipeline with ARC-520 and ARC-AAT two attractive candidates in the clinic whereas DRNA has nothing in the clinic it apparently has confidence in.  It's possible that both stocks are grossly undervalued, but relative valuation is one of my main RNAi investment methods and this is why I'm applying it here. Nothing personal.


Anonymous said...

DCR-PH1 uses GEN3 LNP from Tekmira for delivery. Surprised that it is not much more potent than TTR-02 which uses MC3. This doesn't bode well for TKM-HBV. Tekmira will have a problem with TKM-HBV in case if they have to go to a higher dose than 0.3mg/kg to achieve the desired potency.

Anonymous said...

Your stock picking is lousy. You're back to being keen on ARWR, talk about your shorts and longs all day long, but you miss out on the real money. Check out Novogen.

This got mentioned once before. All you could do was deride them.

Proof is in the pudding I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

And Starpharma. Dendrimers is a subject he has never ever even mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Dirk, could you expand on the comment that "Dicerna seems to view their own mouse data with skepticism". What information from or by Dicerna is out there that would lead to that observation?

Anonymous said...

DICERNA is just another copycat trying to benefit from big interest in the field. They are desperately trying to build distinctive IP and sell the shop to the highest sucker. Unfortunately, they are years behind Alnylam and it seems the lack good ideas.

Dirk Haussecker said...

Dirk, could you expand on the comment that "Dicerna seems to view their own mouse data with skepticism". What information from or by Dicerna is out there that would lead to that observation?

Answer: seeing all the great mouse data yet saying they are putting oncology on hold pending MYC data. Doesn't exude confidence IMO. Technically easier pickings elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dirk,

Thank you for the interesting post. What are your thoughts on the the latest ASCO abstract?

Anonymous said...

Clearly there is limited interest in DRNA, their delivery systems is second rate to current deliveries out there. (ie Tekmira's LNP and Alnylam's conjugates) Any future trials will use an inferior delivery system, unless they can close the potency gap.

They show no confident in MYC and delayed PH1 data release already.

Value to risk reward is not worth investing at this point.

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