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In the Latest Big Pharma/RNAi Alliance, Alcon Inks Deal with Dharmacon for Eye Diseases

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As the field of RNAi-based therapeutics evolves, more and more traditional drugmakers have been entering the field, usually through collaborations with established RNAi players. As of this week, ophthalmology drug developer Alcon has joined the ranks through a drug-discovery collaboration with Dharmacon.

For Dharmacon, the alliance represents the first step towards moving beyond its role as simply an RNAi oligo and tool provider in a market that has become increasingly saturated with competition.

Under the multi-year deal, the companies have agreed to establish a joint steering committee that will select and prioritize ocular disease-related gene targets for potential siRNA drugs, William Marshall, vice president of technology and business development for Dharmacon parent Fisher Biosciences, said. This committee is expected to meet for the first time within the next two weeks to a month, he told RNAi News this week.

Once the targets have been selected, Dharmacon "will identify hyper-functional siRNAs that will become candidates for evaluation in their ability to act as eye drugs," Marshall said. Alcon will then decide on which siRNAs it will put into its development pipeline.

Alcon will take on all development and commercialization responsibilities for drug candidates resulting from the partnership, Marshall added. In exchange, Dharmacon stands to receive certain payments, including milestones. Additional financial terms of the arrangement were not disclosed, and Marshall declined to comment on whether royalties were a part of the deal. He did note that "it is what we would call a traditional drug-discovery collaboration where there are certain payments."


Dharmacon has the "technology [for] … addressing a lot of the problems that focus on getting RNAi to work and work reliably [in cells] … and in animals. The logical next development step [was] to attempt to create molecules that could … act directly on targets as therapeutics. We see this [deal with Alcon] as a logical progression in terms of the development of the company."

"We have technology [for] … addressing a lot of the problems that focus on getting RNAi to work and work reliably [in cells] … and in animals," Marshall said. "The logical next development step [was] to attempt to create molecules that could … act directly on targets as therapeutics. We see this [deal with Alcon] as a logical progression in terms of the development of the company."

As such, Marshall noted that Dharmacon is continuing to seek out other deals similar to the one with Alcon, but in indications beyond ocular disease, adding that active discussions with other possible partners are ongoing.

To Alcon, the deal with Dharmacon represents the fulfillment of desire to enter the RNAi space that the company has had for some time.

"If you look at the space … you've seen other companies out there cut deals with various ophthalmic or other large pharmaceutical companies," Doug MacHatton, vice president of investor relations and strategic communications, told RNAi News this week. "We've observed that and … been trying to find the right opportunity. We've found the right opportunity with Dharmacon."

— Doug Macron ([email protected])

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