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Arrowhead Establishes New RNAi Firm to Bring Nucleic Acid, Delivery Technology Under One Roof

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Arrowhead Research announced this week that it has established a new majority-owned subsidiary, Calando Pharmaceuticals, that will take over and expand upon the RNAi therapeutics activities of another Arrowhead company, Insert Therapeutics.

According to California Institute of Technology researcher Mark Davis, who is a co-founder of both Insert and Calando, the new company is designed to merge the delivery technology of Insert — which will no longer work in the RNAi field — with additional RNAi technology just licensed from CalTech.

“The idea here was to not only take the technology we developed at Insert, but combine it with other technologies to build a much stronger and broad-based focus on RNAi therapeutics,” he told RNAi News this week. “The Insert piece is only a portion of what’s happening at Calando.”

Insert, which is a spin-out of CalTech, had been developing a technology that involves RNAi constructs formulated as microparticles made from biodegradable polymers (see RNAi News, 4/9/2004). At Insert, Davis and colleagues were exploring the use of this technology to deliver RNAi agents systemically, as inhalable powders, and as composites that could be adhered to medical devices such as stents.

By combining this work with the new CalTech technology, Calando hopes to create a company that can address the two key issues facing the RNAi-drug field.

“You have people with really nice technology on the nucleic acid side, and people who have nice technology on the delivery side, but there has not been an effective integration of those two skill sets,” Davis said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Davis told RNAi News this week that the nature of that new CalTech technology is not being disclosed just yet, but that more details will be provided as related intellectual property is published by the US Patent and Trademark Office. CalTech received an undisclosed equity stake in Calando in exchange for the technology license.

Also bolstering Calando’s RNAi activities is the nucleic acid know-how of another of the company’s co-founders, Beckman Research Institute researcher John Rossi, who will act as a scientific advisor.

Rossi “has long worked in the area of RNA, and so he is good at designing sequences,” Davis said. “He’s also [published] papers on looking at the causes of certain immunostimulatory responses, [as well as] longer [RNA] strands that are very efficient.

“He took ribozymes to the clinic, so he’s been [down] the whole road [and] is very much aware of everything going on in the space,” he added.

Additional scientific expertise will come from student-researchers currently working in Davis’ lab at CalTech who will join Calando upon graduation. Matt Vincent, a partner at the law firm Ropes & Gray, is also a co-founder of Calando. John Petrovich, currently the president and COO of Insert, will transition over to become CEO of Calando.

While pursuing RNAi-based drugs at Insert, a major challenge for Davis was finding industry partners, as well as securing the funds necessary to continue the company’s research.

Davis said this week that both these issues have now been addressed for Calando. He said that the company is in late-stage talks with multiple players from both the pharmaceutical and RNAi arenas to strike collaborations, and that he expects these negotiations to be finalized before year-end.

“As soon as everybody signs on the line, I think we’ll have announcements to let everybody know what those collaborations are,” Davis said.

He added that Calando has already completed an initial round of financing, but declined to comment on the exact details.

— DM

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