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RNA Interference Alnylam and Ribopharma Tag-team to Develop RNAi Therapeutics

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The prospect of using short interfering RNA reagents as therapeutics is still fairly theoretical, but that isn’t stopping entrepreneurs from setting up businesses around the idea. In fact, a round of consolidation earlier this summer coupled with new venture capital funding seems to indicate a healthy dose of investor confidence in the tiny sector.

In July, Alnylam, a year-old startup based in Cambridge, Mass., appeared to emerge the victor after merging with Ribopharma, a Kulmbach, Germany-based developer of RNAi therapeutics founded in 2000. With former Alnylam CEO John Maraganore as the top boss at the combined entity, known as Alnylam Holding, the new firm raised $24.6 million in additional private equity financing, which the company announced simultaneously with the merger.

Alnylam’s offices in Cambridge, Mass., will be the site of the new company’s global headquarters, while the Ribopharma operating unit will remain in Kulmbach, Germany. Aside from Maraganore, the management team includes Roland Kreutzer, founder and previously CEO of Ribopharma, who will serve as COO of the Ribopharma operating unit; and Stefan Limmer, founder and previously CSO of Ribopharma, who will serve as CTO of the combined entity.

There may be several benefits to the two companies’ merger, including an expanded multinational presence and the consolidation of RNAi expertise, but perhaps the most obvious involves intellectual property. Prior to merging, executives from the rival companies pooh-poohed each others’ claims to IP superiority, with each claiming they had the sole right to sell siRNAs as therapeutics. Together, Alnylam and Ribopharma control or have filed patents in fundamental RNAi technology and core patents relating to product composition and therapeutic applications of RNAi, according to a statement.

The new financing round raises the total investment in Alnylam and Ribopharma to $43 million. Alnylam said the funding would be used to hire new staff and accelerate its research and commercial initiatives.

— John S. MacNeil

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