RNAi Firms Unite Rather than Fight
In the hot new field of RNAi research, both Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Ribopharma felt they controlled vital intellectual property. To end uncertainty offputting to potential partners and investors, and leverage the commercial head-start of Ribopharma, the companies decided to merge and go forward as Alnylam.
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If 2006 was a breakout year for RNAi the concept, then 2007 could be a breakout year for RNAi drug development itself. In the past few years there has been a surge of newcomers to the space, in some cases sporting high-quality venture backers and boldfaced names in RNAi. Some companies have decided to play ball with the industry leaders, sublicensing Alnylam's IP around their chosen targets, for example; others have filed their own IP-either outside the Alnylam and Merck umbrellas or putting them on a relatively slow-motion collision course with the two power brokers; still others have argued that patenting novel delivery technologies will provide them with the necessary edge in licensing negotiations, should they come about, or with pharmaceutical partners.
Nucleonics, like other companies competing in the new field of RNAi, started out with big ambitions. Even before its Series A financing ran out, the company decided to focus on clinical goals. Nucleonics has just received a $41 million financing meant to see two drug candidates, presently still in preclinical testing, get through Phase II. Investors like its focus. Meanwhile, Alnylam still has big plans, which it's now hoping to finance through the public markets.
The world is waking up to aptamers. With a few big deals and a small flock of products in the clinic, aptamers' boosters see the molecules largely replacing antibodies; they've got many of the advantages of both large and small molecules, plus the added advantage of speedy creation. But they still face major technological challenges-including high manufacturing costs, limited half-lives, and problems with intracellular targets. The three players whose strategies we profile here-Corgentech, Coley and Archemix--have all chosen to pursue opportunities with aptamers which avoid their biggest problems. But the solutions also limit these companies' abilities to fully exploit the aptamer platform.