Roche Joins RNAi Fray Via Deal With Alnylam | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: July 9, 2007

Roche Joins RNAi Fray Via Deal With Alnylam

Drug discovery pact could be worth $1 billion for the RNAi specialist
Department: Business

The price tag for access to RNA interference (RNAi) technology, a potential route to treating disease by turning genes on and off, is getting hefty. Roche has agreed to pay upwards of $1 billion for access to Alnylam Pharmaceuticals' expertise in the field.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Alnylam has built a veritable fortress of intellectual property around the chemistry and delivery of RNAi-based therapeutics, and the deal gives Roche a nonexclusive license to use it. The companies will collaborate to discover RNAi drugs to treat cancer and respiratory, metabolic, and certain liver diseases.

Roche will pay Alnylam an initial $331 million, which includes an up-front fee and an equity investment of less than 5% of the company. Alnylam also will receive milestone payments and royalties on any products that reach the market and could reap more payments if Roche decides to expand its RNAi research into new disease areas.

In addition, Roche will acquire Alnylam's Kulmbach, Germany, research site, which employs about 40 people. The Bavarian facility will become Roche's research center for RNAi therapeutics discovery.

"Alnylam has made significant advances in RNAi therapeutics, one of the most promising approaches to tomorrow's health care technology," says Lee E. Babiss, head of Roche Global Pharma Research. "Working together with Alnylam provides us with new capabilities to target complex diseases within our focus areas."

The deal between Roche and Alnylam is the latest indication of big pharma's growing interest in RNAi-based drugs. Though a number of companies have in recent years dabbled in RNAi therapeutics through research pacts, Merck set off a land grab last year when it paid $1.1 billion to acquire Sirna Therapeutics. Last week, AstraZeneca got into the mix through a deal with Silence Therapeutics, a London-based biotech firm that uses short-interfering RNA to induce gene silencing. As part of the deal, AstraZeneca took a $10 million stake in the company.

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