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Alnylam, US Army, Asuragen, Ingenuity Systems, Galenea, Dalton Pharma

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Alnylam Inks Biodefense Research Deal with US Army

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals this week said that it had signed a cooperative research and development agreement with the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases to collaborate on the discovery of RNAi-based drugs for biodefense.

The deal marks the latest step forward in Alnylam's effort to partner with the public sector. Last December, the company announced that it had received a $240,000 grant from the US Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to support its development of an RNAi treatment for pandemic influenza (see RNAi News, 12/16/2005).

"USAMRIID is actively seeking promising technologies to protect our armed forces, and we believe Alnylam's RNAi therapeutic platform enables the rapid discovery and development of anti-virals designed to be broad in scope [and] that can be stockpiled as a national safeguard against biodefense threats," John Maraganore, president and CEO of Alnylam, said in a statement.

Terms of the partnership were not disclosed. According to the USAMRIID's website, however, federal entities may provide personnel, facilities, or other resources, excluding funding, under a CRADA. Non-federal parties may "provide funds, personnel, services, facilities, equipment, or other resources to conduct specific research or development efforts" under the agreement.

As for discoveries made under the CRADA, the USAMRIID said that "rights to newly created [intellectual property] are negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Intellectual property rights in existence prior to a collaboration are retained by the provider."

Under the CRADA, Alnylam will work with the USAMRIID to discover RNAi agents targeting viral organisms that have the potential for use in biowarfare, namely hemorrhagic fever viruses.

According to Alnylam, hemorrhagic fever viruses fall into four main types: arenaviruses, which include Lassa fever; bunyaviruses, such as Rift Valley fever virus and hantavirus; filoviruses, including Ebola and Marburg; and hemorrhagic flaviviruses, such as yellow fever and dengue hemorrhagic fever.

"Mortality rates due to hemorrhagic fever virus infections can be as high as 90 percent," Alnylam said. "Because infection is fatal in most cases and no vaccine or proven countermeasures exist, there is a concern that these viruses would pose severe public health risks if spread deliberately as biological weapons."


Asuragen to Provide Ingenuity Systems' IPA to Service Customers

Asuragen will provide the Ingenuity Pathway Analysis software to its molecular diagnostics service customers, Ingenuity Systems said this week.

Asuragen, a spin-off from Ambion, will provide version 3.0 of the software for mRNA expression profiling to customers of its services business.

The company, comprised of Ambion's former diagnostics and services division as well as a discovery group, focuses on microRNAs as cancer diagnostics. Asuragen was formed after Applied Biosystems acquired Ambion's RNA business in March (see RNAi News, 1/5/2006).


Galenea Officially Realigns Itself After RNAi Asset Sale

Galenea said last week that it has realigned itself to focus exclusively on discovering and developing non-RNAi drugs to treat central nervous system diseases.

The move was widely expected following the company's sale of its RNAi therapeutics assets to Nastech Pharmaceuticals in February (see RNAi News, 2/23/2006).

When it was founded in 2004, Galenea had two distinct research and development focuses: an RNAi-based treatment for influenza and calcineuron-related therapeutics for cognitive disorders.

The RNAi program, which stemmed from the work of company co-founder and MIT researcher Jianzhu Chen, faced troubles early on. A little over a year ago, the company secured a collaboration and licensing deal with Japanese drug giant Otsuka Pharmaceutical reported to be worth about $50 million. However, that deal specifically applied to Galenea's CNS operations, although the company's then-CEO John Oyler told RNAi News that a portion of the Otsuka funding would be used to fund RNAi research.

Later that year, Oyler revealed to RNAi News that Galenea had been in discussions with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals about collaborating on a flu therapy (see RNAi News, 6/3/2005). However, Alnylam ultimately embarked on its own flu program, putting itself in direct competition with the smaller Galenea.

Galenea said this week that the "value created by the siRNA program will enable the company to in-license additional CNS programs to augment its pipeline."


Dalton Pharma Completes Oligo Manufacturing Facility

Dalton Pharma Services, based in Toronto, said this week that it has completed the construction of an oligonucleotide manufacturing facility.

"Dalton can now use its expertise in synthesis and manufacturing of antisense oligonucleotides and their analogs to produce cGMP grade oligonucleotides as required for human clinical testing," Peter Pekos, president and CEO of Dalton, said in a statement.

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