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Benitec, Alnylam Ink Deal for Options to Each Other s IP

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Benitec and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals have granted each other the option to non-exclusively license the other's RNAi-related intellectual property for drug development, the companies said this week.

Under the deal, Alnylam will provide Benitec and its licensees with an option to non-exclusively license Alnylam IP related to the use of DNA constructs expressing siRNAs for gene silencing. Should Benitec exercise the option, Alnylam would be paid undisclosed license fees. In addition, Alnylam would be entitled to receive milestones and royalties on expressed RNAi products developed by Benitec or its licensees.

The arrangement also calls for Benitec to provide Alnylam with an option to non-exclusively license Benitec IP related to expressed RNAi and synthetic siRNAs under the same terms. However, it does not appear that Alnylam has any significant interest in the expressed RNAi field just yet.

Patty Allen, vice president of finance at Alnylam, said in an e-mail to RNAi News that Alnylam is "not, at this time, interested in expressed RNAi therapeutic approaches. Our agreement with Benitec provides us with the option to license intellectual property that appeared very early in the field of RNAi."

Benitec CEO Sara Cunningham added that "they are not trying to send the signal that they're doing expressed [RNAi], but they're keeping their options open. If at some point in the future [expressed RNAi] became an area of interest, they might consider it."

Essentially, this arrangement gives each company "the option to non-exclusively license patent applications, should they issue … that either company has filed in the other's field," Cunningham told RNAi News this week.

"Should some of our claims that have been filed for delivered RNAi issue, [Alnylam] can exercise the option to take a non-exclusive license," she said. "And the same reciprocally: If any of their [patent applications] with expressed [RNAi] claims issue in the US, we have the option of licensing them."

The agreement further provides Benitec with options to take up to five exclusive licenses to Alnylam's IP for use in the development of synthetic RNAi-based therapeutics against mutually agreed upon targets. These options are being granted under Alnylam's InterfRx program, which was launched in late 2003 as part of the company's desire to make its RNAi IP accessible to other drugmakers (see RNAi News, 12/19/2003).

Cunningham noted that Alnylam will receive similar options that allow it to take up to five exclusive licenses to Benitec's IP for use in developing expressed RNAi drugs.

While Alnylam's intention to stick the delivered RNAi field is clear, Benitec's plans are less so. Cunningham said that target tissue and clinical indication "dictates, more than anything else, whether expressed or delivered [RNAi] is more appropriate. We will pursue that along those lines.

"What is unique … to expressed RNAi is transcribing multiple RNAi molecules off of a single transcription template," she said. "If there's a way to preserve that in a delivered context, we would be very interested in that. So we are looking at both [approaches], but … the clinical indications we're addressing — HIV and HCV — it will absolutely require multi-targeting."

— DM

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