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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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« Merck Moving Research From Rahway? | Main | A Former Pfizer Executive Finally Trashes Pfizer's Strategy »

August 2, 2011

Merck, RNAi, Alnylam, And So On

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Posted by Derek

And while we're on the topic of Merck, I note that they're closing their RNAi facility in Mission Bay, the former Sirna. That was a pretty big deal when it took place, wasn't it? The piece linked to in that earlier post also talks about the investment that Merck was making in the very facility that they're now closing down, but if I got paid every time that sort of thing happened in this industry, I wouldn't have to work.

This isn't going to help the Bay Area biotech/pharma environment, nor the atmosphere around RNA interference as a drug platform. Merck says that they're not getting out of the field, and that they've integrated the technology for use in their drug discovery efforts. But they paid a billion dollars for Sirna, which is not the sort of up-front price you generally see for add-on technologies that can help you discover other drugs. At the time, it looked like Merck was hoping directly for some new therapeutics, and we still don't know when (or if) those will emerge.

There's another player in the field right next door to me here in Cambridge, Alnylam. Not long after I last wrote about the state of the RNAi area, they actually invited me over to talk about what they're up to - a bit unusual, since I'm not just a blogger, but a scientist working at another company, which is a combo that's caused some confusion more than once. But they gave me a nice overview of what they're working on, and it was clear that they understand the risks involved and are doing whatever they can to get something that works out the door. They have several approaches to the drug-delivery problem that besets the RNA world, and are taking good shots in several different disease areas.

But they (and the other RNAi shops) need more money to go on, which in this environment means partnering with a larger company. Merck, Roche, and Novartis have (in various ways) shown that they feel as if they have pretty much all the RNAi that they need for now, so it'll have to be someone else. Maybe AZ or Lilly, the companies with the biggest patent-expiration problems?

Comments (16) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Biological News | Business and Markets


1. RandomChemist on August 2, 2011 12:25 PM writes...

I think the RNAi field could really get a boost if reliable/reproducible methods for packaging and delivery can be developed. Perhaps companies that specialize in polymers/materials are better suited to this type of product than Pharma or biotech.

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2. Thomas McEntee on August 2, 2011 1:32 PM writes...

Alnylam's December 2010 10K SEC filing says: "We have experienced significant operating losses since our inception. At December 31, 2010, we had an accumulated deficit of $343.3 million. To date, we have not developed any products nor generated any revenues from the sale of products. Further, we do not expect to generate any such revenues in the foreseeable future. We expect to continue to incur annual net operating losses over the next several years and will require substantial resources over the next several years as we expand our efforts to discover, develop and commercialize RNAi therapeutics. We anticipate that the majority of any revenue we generate over the next several years will be from alliances with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies or funding from contracts with the government or foundations, but cannot be certain that we will be able to secure or maintain these alliances or contracts, or meet the obligations or achieve any milestones that we may be required to meet or achieve to receive payments. We anticipate that revenue derived from such sources will not be sufficient to make us consistently profitable" And this was before Roche pulled the plug on them. Bleak times, indeed.

This is a tough area to become profitable in. Delivery and uptake, serum stability, off-target effects, and immune response to double-stranded RNA all work against you. Companies that believe in RNAi must be willing to make long-term strategic investments in this technology. It took nearly 20 years for MABs to make it the big dance.

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3. anon on August 2, 2011 1:41 PM writes...

2. But they have this going for them....

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4. anon on August 2, 2011 1:44 PM writes...

2. But they have this going for them....

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5. anchor on August 2, 2011 2:18 PM writes..., don't get me started! This guy with his other honchos carried out the dirty job at Rahway and was never a man enough to take the responsibility for the same. Wish Alnylam well! RNAi is a great tool that compliments gene KO studies and facilitates drug discovery, but by in itself never will be a drug at the present time. Delivering of the same is its Achilles heel. Shutting down the Merck RNAi facilities at the West coast was easy thing to do...while shutting down at Rahway is a question of when and not if.

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6. Anonymous on August 2, 2011 2:58 PM writes...

Alnylam have just announced a phase 1 study

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7. jerck on August 2, 2011 4:14 PM writes...

#6- For those medicinal chemists, who have been discovering drug, P-I studies means nothing. It is just that the drug has decent safety profile. The beef is to see if it shows any efficacy, during the next phase. Good for Alnylam and Ken Koblan!

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8. Anonymous on August 2, 2011 5:09 PM writes...

Are Alnylam options worth anything?

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9. up to date on August 2, 2011 6:42 PM writes...

Koblan in history.

Alnylam June 7, 2011 press release.

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10. anon on August 2, 2011 7:18 PM writes...

Koblan went to Sunovion (the former Sepracor)

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11. anonymous on August 2, 2011 8:09 PM writes...

@9 - I think I feel a tear swelling up in my eye??????

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12. Anonymous on August 2, 2011 10:14 PM writes...

Does anyone know where Kathleen Metters is now? I miss her so much

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13. MoMo on August 3, 2011 9:07 AM writes...


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14. Up_Urs_John on August 4, 2011 12:45 AM writes...

Isn't this Merck's thing acquire a small company for the intellectual property and then shut it down 5 years later.

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15. Anonymous on August 7, 2011 9:38 AM writes...

Merck has never figured out how to make acquisitions work, look at what happened to Merck San Diego, Rosetta and Sirna! Are you doing better with Schering Plough?

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16. J&J on September 1, 2011 10:59 PM writes...

Check out who ran Rosetta and Sirna into the ground, leader?

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