Roche RNAi Assets Go to Arrowhead | October 31, 2011 Issue - Vol. 89 Issue 44 | Chemical & Engineering News
  • The article was updated on November 2, 2011, to correct the information on Alnylam’s RNAi drugs; the firm has four RNAi-based drugs in clinical trials, but they are not all in Phase I trials.

Volume 89 Issue 44 | p. 11 | News of The Week
Issue Date: October 31, 2011

Roche RNAi Assets Go to Arrowhead

Drug Discovery: Acquisition lifts a cloud from the field of RNAi therapeutics
Department: Business | Collection: Economy
News Channels: Biological SCENE
Keywords: RNAi, drug discovery, intellectual property
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Alnylam conducts RNAi research in Cambridge, Mass.
Credit: Alnylam
Alnylam's RNAi therapeutics research lab in Cambridge, Mass.
 
Alnylam conducts RNAi research in Cambridge, Mass.
Credit: Alnylam

A year after deciding to end research in the field of RNA interference, the Swiss drug giant Roche has divested its RNAi assets to the small drug discovery firm Arrowhead Research.

The sale lifts a pall that settled over the field after Roche’s November 2010 announcement that it was exiting RNAi drug research. At the same time, the deal shows how far the value of assets in the RNAi business has fallen.

Roche spent roughly a half-billion dollars to amass its position in RNAi, including $331 million paid to Alnylam Pharmaceuticals in 2007 for access to RNAi technology and $125 million for the purchase of Mirus Bio in 2008. Arrowhead, in contrast, is paying Roche no money for these and other assets; instead it is giving the Swiss firm an ownership stake of slightly under 10%.

Arrowhead now owns the former Mirus R&D facility in Madison, Wis., which employs a team of 40 scientists. Arrowhead also gets licenses from several leading firms, including Tekmira Pharmaceuticals for RNAi drug delivery technology and Alnylam for RNAi intellectual property and short interfering RNA structures. Arrowhead was already a player in RNAi delivery technology.

To help pay for the development of the Roche assets, Arrowhead has closed on about $10 million in new financing. It also has an agreement with investment firm Lincoln Park Capital to provide up to $15 million to support the new operations in Madison.

“This acquisition is transformational for us and important for the broader RNAi field,” Arrowhead CEO Christopher Anzalone told investors on a conference call. “Combined with our existing advanced RNAi delivery technologies, we believe we are now the most comprehensive RNAi therapeutics company in the world.”

Laurence Reid, chief business officer at Alnylam, which has four RNAi-based drugs in clinical ­trials, agrees that the sale is a plus for the development of RNAi. Roche was a major big pharma investor in the field and its exit was a disappointment, Reid says. “This brings those assets back into the hands of people who are going to care about them and nurture them.”

 
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