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France's Theradiag Buys microRNA Diagnostics Shop Prestizia

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French diagnostics and theranostics firm Theradiag this week announced that it has acquired Prestizia, a five-employee subsidiary of privately held French investment firm Holding Incubatrice Biotechnology and Pharmacy, in a bid to expand its technology base to include microRNAs.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Key to the transaction is Prestizia's exclusive license to an HIV cell tropism characterization method based on the identification of specific miRNA signatures. By using the test, physicians would be able to identify which treatments are appropriate for specific patients, according to the company.

Theradiag CEO Michel Finance pointed to Pfizer's Selzentry, an oral HIV medicine that is designed to prevent the virus from infecting T cells. The drug, however, is indicated for patients with CCR5-tropic HIV only, requiring the use of a tropism test.

Although there is already a test on the market for identifying HIV tropism called Trofile, which is marketed by Laboratory Corporation of America's Monogram Biosciences, Finance noted that this test's price tag of $2,000 “is very expensive.” In addition, Trofile is not available in France.

“Our goal is to develop … a better, faster, and more reliable test,” Finance said, adding that the HIV tropism test could be available in two to three years.

With Prestizia's technology, Theradiag also aims to develop miRNA-based diagnostics in cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, he said, although these projects are less developed than the HIV tropism program and few details are being made available.

He did note that the firm envisions an oncology test that could use an miRNA signature to determine, for instance, whether a solid tumor is likely to metastasize, which could help determine whether a patient should undergo surgery alone or a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.

In terms of rheumatoid arthritis, Finance said that Theradiag aims to develop an miRNA test that can be used to “monitor the evolution of the disease,” and would complement one of the company's existing tests, called Lisa-Tracker, which is designed to see how a patient is responding to anti-TNF-alpha drugs such as those used to treat arthritis, Crohn's disease, and psoriasis.

“Currently, monitoring [rheumatoid arthritis] is only done through clinical indexes — physical examination of the patient,” he said. An miRNA test could potentially give doctors “a better indication of [the] level the disease” in order to inform their treatment decisions.

Finance said the cancer and arthritis tests are expected to reach commercialization in three to five years.

Maybe microRNAs

Through its acquisition of Prestizia, Theradiag joins a growing list of companies looking to expand into the miRNA field, though most others are looking to do so with therapeutics rather than diagnostics.

As reported in this week's issue, RNAi drug shop Sirnaomics has been exploring the potential of the small, non-coding RNAs in ocular disease. Last month, the company published a report with colleagues from the University of Tennessee linking miR-132 with the ocular lesions caused by herpes simplex virus infection.

Marina Biotech, which has also traditionally focused on RNAi, has also been exploring miRNAs. Last year, the company reported that its proprietary conformationally restricted nucleotide technology could be used to enhance the activity of miRNA inhibitors (GSN 7/14/2011).

According to the company, in animal studies, incorporation of the CRN technology, which essentially comprises nucleotide analogs to which the C2' and C4' carbon bonds of the ribose ring are linked, was able to boost the potency of miRNA inhibitors, with a roughly 60-fold improvement in the IC50.

Marina also recently inked a deal to provide its delivery technology to Mirna Therapeutics for use in its therapeutic miRNA mimics (GSN 1/5/2012).

The future of all of Marina's drug programs, however, remains in question after the company disclosed that it had halted virtually all of its operations under a severe cash crunch (GSN 6/7/2012).

Merck has also been testing the miRNA waters, looking to leverage the RNAi expertise it has built since its 2007 acquisition of Sirna Therapeutics.

As reported by Gene Silencing News, the big pharma has been working with miRNA mimics for some time, including synthetic versions of miR-124 (GSN 10/28/2010).

While miRNA inhibitors appear therapeutically promising, mimics are "somewhat analogous" to siRNAs, allowing the company to "piggyback on [Sirna's] efforts to develop chemical modification patterns … and delivery vehicles," Merck researcher Lee Lim said in 2010.

More recently, Jeremy Caldwell, vice president of RNA therapeutics at Merck, told Gene Silencing News that although the firm has not fully committed itself to miRNAs, it continues to explore the space (GSN 12/8/2011).

“We're not stuck on siRNAs,” he said.

A number of companies are also indirectly exploring miRNA technologies, including RXi Pharmaceuticals, which is working to leverage its self-delivering RNAi approach with Miragen Therapeutics' miRNA mimics.

Earlier this year, the companies reported positive in vitro data showing that the self-delivering technology can be used to create an miRNA mimic capable of down-regulating a reporter gene whose expression is controlled by the microRNA in cell culture model systems (GSN 1/27/2011).

A similar arrangement exists between RNAi drug shop Silence Therapeutics and Miragen, which agreed in January to test out Silence's cationic lipid-based DBTC delivery technology with Miragen's miRNA drug candidates (GSN 1/12/2012).

Mirna Therapeutics is also testing out Silence's delivery approaches with its miRNA mimics under a 2011 agreement (GSN 10/27/2011), as is InteRNA Technologies under a separate arrangement (GSN 9/15/2011).

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