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Genta Poised to Enter RNAi Arena with $30 Million Deal to Acquire Salus Therapeutics

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Genta said last week that it has signed a deal to acquire Salus Therapeutics, making it the latest in a string of biopharmaceutical companies, including such big players as Abbott and Genentech, to toss their hats into the RNAi ring.

“Genta, as it’s operated up until now, had two distinct programs: one in DNA-based medicines and the second in small molecules,” Genta CEO Raymond Warrell said during an Aug. 14 conference call. By picking up Salus, in exchange for $13 million in stock up front and as much as $17 million in cash or stock for the achievement of R&D milestones, Genta has now “expand[ed] our research efforts into therapeutic applications of RNA interference.”

But unlike most others in the RNAi space, Salt Lake City-based Salus uses technology involving single strands of antisense RNA that prompt RNAi in a cell. Salus said that these single-stranded RNAs appear more effective than dsRNA, and are currently being tested in animal models against the gene MMP-9.

Warrell also said that Genta has picked up a license to the Fire-Mello patents for RNA interference, giving the company “pretty broad freedom to operate. We do not believe, and I think our attorneys concur, that anybody is going to have an essential blocking position on the technology as a whole.”

“That will be different for specific targets…but we broadly feel that this is a very new field and that no one is in a position to dominate,” he said.

Genta, of Berkeley Heights, NJ, said it expects the acquisition to close before the end of the third quarter.

— DM

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