Big pharma deals for RNA interference therapies are becoming “more mainstream”, said broker Peel Hunt as it turned up the volume on Silence Therapeutics PLC (LON:SLN), which is pioneering the experimental therapy.
Known as co-suppression, post-transcriptional gene silencing and quelling, RNAi is a cellular mechanism that uses the gene's own DNA sequence of a gene to turn it off, a process that researchers call silencing.
The broker noted a “marked appetite” for early-stage deals in the space after Thursday’s announcement that pharma giant Roche is licensing Dicerna Pharmaceuticals RNAi therapy for hepatitis B for $200mln upfront, without even waiting to see phase 1 trial data.
Roche’s licence for ‘DCR-HBVS’, which is designed to knock down genes that get the virus into liver cells, is worth a further $1.5bn in further milestones, and sees the drugs company enter into competition with Johnson & Johnson, which last year paid US$250mln for Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals’ rival RNAi treatment for the same disease.
It is the latest in a series of big-money deals with pharma giants to take RNAi beyond lab-based research and using its capabilities to treat infectious diseases, genetic disorders, and cancer.
In July, Silence completed a $700mln worldwide deal with Mallinckrodt for SLN500, which is a pre-clinical prospect which helps in ‘sensitising’ the immune system to infections, tumours and inflammatory conditions.
Silence’s deal included upfront payments of $20mln, plus research and development funding of $10mln and potential milestones of $666m, as well as the provision of rights to Mallinckrodt for two further assets in Silence’s pipeline.
Analysts at Peel Hunt explained that “these RNAi deals signal a marked appetite for Pharma to partner early on RNAi assets, with sizeable upfront milestones,” adding that if Mallinckrodt pulls the trigger on two more programs, Silence “could net another $703 million in milestones for each asset.”
Elsewhere, Silence’s lead drug, SLN124, a galnac-siRNA conjugate, recently entered the clinic and the first patients will be dosed by the year-end.