Cenix Bioscience, looking to leverage its expertise conducting high-throughput, high-content RNAi experiments in cultured human and rodent cells, has begun expanding its operations to eventually include contract-research work in animals, RNAi News has learned.
At the same time, the company is developing an siRNA-delivery technology that it expects to not only facilitate its in vivo work, but also enable RNAi-based therapeutics, according to Cenix CEO and CSO Chris Echeverri.
Until reecntly, "almost everything we've done … has been focused on cell-based work," but Cenix had been "waiting for the right opportunity to get into the in vivo side of things," he told RNAi News recently. With an early-stage delivery technology showing promise, the Dresden, Germany-based company decided in early 2008 the time was right to start laying the groundwork for an in vivo research unit.
To Echeverri, the move is a "logical extension" of Cenix's current contract research offerings, which primarily consist of high-throughput RNAi assay optimization, RNAi-based target discovery and validation, and drug mechanism-of-action analyses.
Advancing the delivery approach, meanwhile, complements the less-visible side of the company's operations — RNAi technology development — which has included the company's development of the first genome-wide siRNA libraries (see RNAi News, 8/29/2003).
Cenix's efforts to build in vivo operations have thus far consisted of securing funding from the German government, and obtaining access to a nearby animal facility and its staff of technical and pharmacological experts, Echeverri noted. Now, the company is focusing on further refining the delivery technology and methods for conducting in vivo experimentation in order to be able to start offering contract animal research in the future.
And while Cenix has initially expected the majority of this work would be done in-house, the company has inked the first of what it hopes will be a series of collaborations to support its efforts, he said.
"I … started speaking to some pharma groups we know well and [with] whom we expected to have compatible interests to see if there might be a win-win basis for driving some of this work through … partnerships," Echeverri told RNAi News in a follow-up e-mail.
The first of these arrangements began last year with an undisclosed company and focuses on siRNA delivery to the central nervous system, he noted.
"Since we can’t cover all possible disease indications right away, we must prioritize some," he stated. But through collaborations, Cenix can also begin working in indications and target tissues of interest to its partner.
"In this way, they can share the risk with us, and at the same time give [their] project a better chance of success by jointly devoting more resources to it than what they might have been able to justify on their own," he added.
Given the success Cenix has had thus far with its partner, Echeverri wrote that the company is now exploring the possibility of establishing other co-development partnerships in other tissues and indications.
"Once some of these efforts yield solid, robust protocols for target-validation work, then we will start launching corresponding contract-research offerings," he noted.
Echeverri also said anticipates that his company's efforts to develop the siRNA-delivery technology will also pay off in terms of deals with RNAi drug makers. He declined to comment on how any such deals may be structured, but said that "we're open to all models."
Worms and Beyond
For Cenix, the expansion into in vivo RNAi research marks the latest in a series of changes the company has undergone since its founding in 1999.
While it had originally flirted with developing RNAi drugs, in 2003 Cenix ultimately narrowed its focus to offering RNAi reagent-design, target-discovery, and target-validation services (see RNAi News, 10/10/2003).
The majority of that initial work was done in C. elegans, and it culminated in 2005 with the publication of a genome-wide RNAi screen for cell-division genes in the model organism (see RNAi News, 4/1/2005).
As Cenix began shifting its focus toward more advanced applications of the gene-silencing technology in human and rodent cells after the discovery of RNAi in mammals, Echeverri said at the time that the company decided to end work in C. elegans because "there just isn't enough demand."