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Marina Halts Majority of Operations Under Cash Crunch

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This story has been updated to include comments from Marina's management and details about the company's operating history.

Marina Biotech said last week that it has shut down the majority of its operations, including an ongoing phase I trial of its familial adenomatous polyposis drug CEQ508, after failing to secure needed financing.

In conjunction with the move, Marina said it has also put 90 percent of its roughly 35 employees on furlough to conserve cash, although the firm did not disclose which employees were affected. It has also negotiated an extension on a secured loan, which it said is now fully due on June 15.

As for the CEQ508 study, Marina CEO Michael French told Gene Silencing News that patients had already been enrolled and treated in the trial's first two cohorts, but that the company halted the study before patient recruitment in the third cohort could begin.

CEQ508 is based on Marina's so-called transkingdom RNAi technology, which uses orally delivered attenuated Escherichia coli to transcribe therapeutic shRNAs. The drug is designed to inhibit the oncogene beta-catenin as a way to prevent the formation of the colorectal polyps that characterize the disease, and potentially slow the progression of existing ones to malignancy.

Marina acquired the drug when it bought Cequent Pharmaceuticals for $46 million in stock in 2010 (GSN 4/1/2010).

Details about Marina's plans going forward are limited, and its exact financial situation is unclear since it has not filed requisite 2011 financial documents with the US Securities and Exchange Commission amid uncertainties about its ability to continue as a going concern.

French declined to specify how much longer the Bothell, Wash.-based RNA drug shop can operate in its current state, but said that additional financing is needed in the “near term.” He also reiterated the company's previous statement that it is looking into all strategic opportunities and funding possibilities.

“I don't think we're set on any particular course of action … [other than] to be successful and execute on our business strategy,” he said.

French did indicate that Marina would be open to being bought by another firm, noting that mergers and acquisitions “have always been considered” and that they remain “a viable option” to address the company's current financial woes.

“If someone wanted to acquire us because we thought together [the transaction would be] in the best interest of the combine company, no one is getting bent out of shape about whose name is … on the business cards at the end of it.”

Should this be the path Marina ends up traveling, it would mark just the latest in a number of corporate overhauls for the company.

Marina roots extend back to Nastech Pharmaceutical, which was founded to develop intranasal drug-delivery technologies but in early 2006 bought privately held RNAi therapeutics firm Galena and its fledgling influenza program (GSN 2/23/2006).

After failing to gain traction with any of its RNAi efforts, Nastech weighed spinning out its RNAi assets into a new company called MDRNA, but later decided to re-invent itself as a firm focused on the gene-silencing technology. In mid-2008, it disclosed that it was taking the MDRNA moniker itself, and would begin to focus on RNA drug technologies (GSN 5/8/2008).

Eventually, MDRNA replaced its leadership from its Nastech days and brought on board French to lead the company.

In 2010, MDRNA enacted a reverse stock split in order to create the shares needed to buy Cambridge, Mass.-based Cequent, and changed its name to Marina, which was meant to reflect the “marine nature” of its two locations; Puget Sound and Boston Harbor.

In February, Marina announced it was closing down its Cambridge operations in order to conserve money (GSN 2/23/2012).

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