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Buying Mirus for $125M, Roche Expands Stable of RNAi Delivery Technologies

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Roche this week took another step to strengthen its RNAi drug-delivery capabilities by signing a deal to acquire privately held Mirus Bio for $125 million in cash.
 
Roche will keep Mirus’ therapeutics operations and related employees, and expects to divest the company’s reagents business after the deal closes in the second half of the year, the companies said.
 
Key to the transaction is Mirus’ polymer-based dynamic polyconjugate delivery technology, which has previously been shown to enable targeted siRNA delivery to hepatocytes in vivo. The technology will now join Roche’s growing portfolio of RNAi delivery approaches.
 
“Without question, the dynamic polyconjugates delivery platform is what drove the deal,” Mirus President Russ Smestad told RNAi News this week.
 
After data describing the technology appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in mid-2007, Mirus “realized that this was … very much a second-generation delivery technology different from anything out there,” he said. “So, we very consciously approached all the major players that had an interest in the space, exploring their interest in the technology.”
 
While Madison, Wisc.-based Mirus had initially intended to make Roche its sole licensing partner for the technology, “that exclusive partner relationship ended up being an acquisition,” Smestad added.
 
For Roche, meanwhile, the decision to acquire Mirus stemmed from its desire to gain access to the delivery technology, as well as to benefit from the expertise of the Mirus team.
 
‘Quite Good’
 
The dynamic polyconjugate technology “is quite good,” Lou Renzetti, vice president and global head of RNA therapeutics at Roche, told RNAi News this week. “From what we’ve seen in collaborating with them, [the technology] represents a major advance in terms of cellular delivery and endosomal escape” of RNAi compounds.
 
“We also, frankly, were impressed by the people,” he added. “We felt … that they would bring quite a bit of know-how to our efforts and that there could be synergies created by bringing them … and other RNA activities together.”
 

“When we began looking at Mirus and their data and their people, we felt [the company] was something that would definitely help us synergize with our Center of Excellence in Kulmbach and help us to create a strong leadership position in RNA therapeutics.”

Roche’s play for Mirus comes just one year after it forged a major alliance with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, acquiring non-exclusive access to the RNAi shop’s fundamental intellectual property to develop therapeutics in oncology, respiratory diseases, metabolic diseases, and certain liver diseases (see RNAi News, 7/20/2007).
 
Through that deal, Roche also acquired Alnylam’s Kulmbach, Germany-based subsidiary, which is now the Roche Center of Excellence for RNAi Therapeutics Research, as well as that business’ roughly 40 employees.
 
“We began our investment in RNA therapeutics through the acquisition of the Kulmbach site from Alnylam,” Renzetti said. “This gave us immediate capabilities in the area of RNA as a therapeutic,” but Roche remained on the lookout for enabling technologies.
 
As part of that search, Roche made a $5 million equity investment in Tekmira Pharmaceuticals in April to gain access to that company’s drug-delivery technologies, which includes its stable nucleic acid lipid particles, or SNALPs (see RNAi News, 4/3/2008).
 
At the same time, it appears, the Swiss drugs giant was eyeing Mirus.
 
“When we began looking at Mirus and their data and their people, we felt [the company] was something that would definitely help us synergize with our Center of Excellence in Kulmbach and help us to create a strong leadership position in RNA therapeutics,” Renzetti said.
 
Tossing Transfection
 
Although Roche is acquiring 100 percent of Mirus, its interest in the company is limited to its delivery and therapeutics operations. According to Smestad, Roche will divest Mirus’ transfection reagents business to a group of local investors who have already invested in the company.
 
Once divested, the reagents group will retain the Mirus name and remain at its current location.
 
The therapeutics business, which will be called Roche Madison, will be located at a separate facility nearby.
 
Rich Schifreen, Mirus’ vice president of research products, told RNAi News this week that there is not expected to be any disruption or changes to the company’s reagent operations once the acquisition and divestiture has been consummated.
 
“We want to assure everyone … [that] it’s going to be business as usual,” he said. “It’s going to be the same products, the same employees, the same facility, [and] we’re maintaining all of our business relationships.”
 
In a letter to Mirus customers posted on the company’s website, Schifreen noted that the company has “operated as two divisions for some time,” and that “nothing will change with respect to our relationships.”
 
In fact, Schifreen views the formal separation of the businesses as “an opportunity to take a clear focus on the research products [business] and make it successful,” he told RNAi News.
 
Chasing Genentech
 
Separately this week, Roche announced that it had made an offer to acquire all outstanding publicly held shares of biotech firm Genentech for $89 per share. Roche already owns 55.9 percent of Genentech.
 
Genentech has said that it expects to assemble a special committee to evaluate the offer.
 
Roche said in a press release announcing its bid for Genentech that the acquisition would “significantly enhance cooperation and cross fertilization among all research hubs inside and outside of the combined company” through the sharing of technologies including RNAi.
 
While Genentech has not publicly disclosed an interest in therapeutic RNAi, Renzetti said that he is “excited that RNA was identified as an area of potential collaboration with Genentech. Once closure of that deal goes forward, I’ll be able to see exactly what it is Genentech is working on and how we might be able to work together” on RNAi.
 
He declined to comment further.

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