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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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April 15, 2014

Novartis Gets Out of RNAi

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Posted by Derek

Yesterday brought the sudden news that Novartis is pulling their RNA interference research work. The company is citing difficulties in development, and also the strategic point that not as many disease areas seem to be open to the use of the technique as they'd like. John LaMattina has more here - it's looking more and more like this may be a good field for smaller companies like Alnylam, but not something that's going to feed the beast at a company the size of Novartis (or Merck, who exited a while ago). If there's some sort of technology breakthrough, that could change - but you get the impression that Novartis was hoping for one before now.

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. kemist on April 15, 2014 11:48 AM writes...

Having respect for ANY big pharma "research" effort is laughable.

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2. Bernard Munos on April 15, 2014 12:34 PM writes...

Tough to say when a discovery is ready for translation, and the bold companies that give it a try will sometimes fail. But without that boldness, they will surely fail more often. I remember Lilly exiting monoclonal antibodies right at the time when Medarex and Abgenix figured how to humanize them. Talk about unfortunate timing.

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3. anon on April 15, 2014 2:41 PM writes...

LaMattina's article is surprisingly in-accurate on explaining the basic science issues...

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4. lol on April 15, 2014 4:06 PM writes...

Most big pharma dropped this awhile ago correct? In this case its a wise choice considering the lack of progress over the last 10 years.

In situ techniques don't always make drugs. For example: You cant dose transfection reagents into people to specifically deliver DNA/ neg charged peptides. Its still a powerful molecular technique, just not a drug.

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5. Helotian on April 15, 2014 9:42 PM writes...

Somewhat inaccurate to say that Novartis pulled out or dropped its RNAi efforts. They certainly reduced their staff and budget, but they are still keeping a small core group and are retaining the 31 RNAi targets they licensed from Alnylam. They will look for opportune partnerships/collaborations in RNAi. (I read that as reliance on external R&D with the specialty RNAi firms who can do it "better" and bear the initial R&D costs and risks).

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6. Robur on April 16, 2014 4:13 AM writes...

5. Helotian

I agree. The announcement feels less like a verdict on RNAi and more one on ROI.
Novartis are a commercial organisation and this is simply a change in tactics.
Surely the real significance is that it is becoming the established operating model for much research within Big Pharma?

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7. Mike Goodman on April 16, 2014 3:35 PM writes...

For a big pharma pursuing rare disease R&D, RNAi therapeutics feeds the beast as well as most other platforms, probably better. Sanofi certainly thought so with its recent mega investment in Alnylam. Alnylam (PCSK9 dyslipidemia) and Arrowhead (Hep B)are also showing that RNAi seems to work just fine in liver-mediated big population diseases, and that's with subQ administration. And Dicerna, which by the way pulled off a heavily oversubscribed IPO in Feb, is targeting the extra-hepatic oncogenes MYC and KRAS. Novartis' reducing their involvement in RNAi says nothing about its prospects.

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8. biotech scientist on April 16, 2014 4:05 PM writes...

Is it 2009 again?

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9. milkshake on April 16, 2014 5:55 PM writes...

I wonder: Have anyone developed a decent delivery platform for RNAi that actually works in vivo?

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10. Sid vicious on April 16, 2014 7:08 PM writes...

Great tools for biology. Not drugs. Correct decision by nvs and mrk.

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11. Alteredego on April 16, 2014 8:16 PM writes...

From the linked article:
""The importance of its discovery was recognized by the award of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for Physiology or Medicine...”. This is taken from the website of Alnylam"

I hope the research wing of Alnylam is more with it than their PR department or I'd have some serious doubts on their chances as well.

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12. Fighton on April 21, 2014 8:34 PM writes...

The technology behind RXII is not a delivery system per se but encapsulates the drug itself in the "delivery" mechanism. Read up on it.

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13. Fighton on April 21, 2014 8:36 PM writes...

The technology behind RXII is not a delivery system per se but encapsulates the drug itself which becomes the "delivery" mechanism. Read up on it.

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