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Atugen Inks Deal With Aventis to Identify RNAi Compounds With Therapeutic Potential

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Atugen said this week that it has signed a deal to collaborate with French drug maker Aventis aimed at identifying siRNAs that have the potential to be developed into therapeutics.

According to Atugen, the partnership will combine its siRNA technology, which includes stabilized siRNA compounds and delivery vehicles, with Aventis’ pharmacology know-how.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Andre Lochter, Atugen’s director of business development, told RNAi News in an e-mail that his company was not providing additional information about the deal just yet.

Although the details of Atugen’s newest collaboration have not been made public, the deal appears to be a significant step forward for the company on its journey to becoming an RNAi-based drugs developer.

Since it was spun off from Ribozyme Pharmaceuticals (now Sirna Therapeutics) in 1998, Atugen had been conducting target validation work for customers using traditional gene silencing technologies such as antisense, ribozymes, and RNAi. But earlier this year, the company announced that its new priority would be developing therapies using the novel siRNA compounds it has developed (see RNAi News, 2/13/2004).

In an interview with RNAi News at the Strategic Research Institute’s siRNA in Drug Discovery and Development conference in San Diego in April, Lochter said that Atugen was working on its in-house programs, primarily in oncology, all the while keeping a lookout for potential biopharmaceutical collaborators (see RNAi News, 4/23/2004). With the Aventis deal, it seems Atugen has found its first.

Officials from Aventis were not available for comment on the partnership, but it seems likely that the arrangement will include some cancer work, if for no other reason that both companies maintain a high-level of interest in the disease: Atugen has identified a number of potential cancer drug targets, mostly within the phophoinositide 3-kinase pathway; while Aventis markets a number of cancer drugs, including Taxotere and Campto, and is Genta’s partner on the antisense-based cancer therapy Genasense. Additionally, Aventis has been using RNAi internally to identify genes that alter the efficacy of its cancer drugs (see RNAi News, 11/7/2003).

— DM

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