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Dharmacon Inks siRNA-Based Drug-Discovery Deal With Abbott; Initial Focus to Be Cancer


Dharmacon and Abbott this week announced that they have signed a multi-year deal to discover siRNA-based therapeutics for multiple indications, with an initial focus on cancer.

The deal, which is at least the second RNAi alliance between the two firms, is Dharmacon's latest effort to extend beyond its traditional role as an RNAi oligo and tool provider into the burgeoning field of RNAi therapeutics. In October, the company established a collaboration with Alcon to discover siRNAs that could be used as therapeutics for ocular diseases (see RNAi News, 10/21/2005).

Though Dharmacon is committed to the RNAi reagent and tools market, "we do see a fantastic opportunity to now leverage the experiences gained in terms of facilitating drug discovery to now think about the siRNA molecule directly as a therapeutic agent," Bill Marshall, vice president of technology and business development for Dharmacon parent Fisher Biosciences, told RNAi News this week.

For Abbott, the alliance suggests an increasing commitment to RNAi — and Dharmacon. In 2003, it hired Dharmacon to create an siRNA library covering 4,000 genes for use by Abbott in drug target identification. It also reflects one big pharma's effort to invigorate its pipeline by developing drugs against so-called undruggable targets.

Through the partnership Dharmacon "will be able to explore targets that everyone knows exist, but have not been able to successfully create drugs to address."

"The collaboration fits our strategy to extend Abbott's portfolio with novel therapies in areas of high unmet need," Stephen Fesik, divisional vice president of cancer research at Abbott, said in a statement. Through the partnership "we will be able to explore targets that everyone knows exist, but have not been able to successfully create drugs to address.

"The flexibility and selectivity of siRNA therapeutics should provide promising approaches that are not easily achievable with small molecules or antibodies," he added.

Marshall said the partnership will be managed by a joint steering committee composed of individuals from both companies.

Dharmacon's primary responsibilities under the deal will "focus on RNAi technology — selection of the optimal sequences, their chemical modification to give them optimal properties, [and] employing some of the most up-to-date guidance in terms of eliminating off-target [effects]," he said.

Abbott, meanwhile, will be responsible for drug discovery and development, and will handle the commercialization of any products resulting from the collaboration. Dharmacon will also contribute to the development of drug-delivery approaches for the siRNA-based drug candidates. Additional terms of the arrangement, including the financials, were not disclosed.

While Dharmacon has long been refining its technologies for delivering RNAi compounds in cell culture, "we have had … a pretty rigorous evaluation process in place for over a year now to identify new technologies that could work to deliver [RNAi agents] to specific tissues in vivo," Marshall noted.

— Doug Macron ([email protected])

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