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Mirina Changes Name to Groove Biopharma


By Doug Macron

Mirina this week announced that it has changed its name to Groove Biopharma in a move it said will better reflect the company's core technology, a novel miRNA-inhibition platform based on minor groove binders.

The name change also happens to come on the heels of Mirina's failed bid to sue Marina Biotech for trademark infringement due to its similar-sounding name.

Mirina was founded in 2008 by biotech investment firm Accelerator in order to develop the MGB technology, which was originally developed by Nanogen as a potential cancer therapeutic (GSN 8/21/2008).

Essentially peptide antibiotics that non-covalently bind to the minor grooves of nucleic acid duplexes, MGBs showed the potential to boost the efficacy of miRNA antagonists, and Nanogen eventually licensed their rights in the field of RNA therapeutics to Accelerator.

After closing a Series A-1 round of financing in early 2010, Mirina began to ramp up its operations and establish a presence in the field. However, a few months later, Marina changed its name from MDRNA, setting the two firms up for a legal showdown.

Last August, Mirina sued Marina for trademark infringement, charging that the new name was too similar to its own and would spark confusion in a highly competitive market (GSN 9/19/2010).

According to Mirina's suit, Marina's name "is likely to cause confusion, mistake, or deception as to the origin, sponsorship, or approach of the services" provided by Mirina.

"Mirina has and will continue to be damaged by such false description, false representation, and false designation of origin in a manner and amount that cannot fully be measured or compensated in economic terms," it added.

Marina, headquartered in Bothell, Wash., long maintained that its name change had nothing to do with Mirina and was related to its acquisition of Cequent Pharmaceuticals, which is based on Cambridge, Mass.

"We renamed our company following MDRNA’s acquisition of Cequent … to connect the marine nature of our two locations — Puget Sound and Boston Harbor — while preserving our Nasdaq ticker, MRNA, which we have used since June 11, 2008," Marina President and CEO Michael French told Gene Silencing News at the time.

However, Mirina was not swayed, and in September asked the court to prohibit Marina from using its current name (GSN 9/23/2010).

"Without a preliminary injunction during the pendency of this case, exactly the same microRNA-based drug-development services will be offered under confusingly similar Marina and Mirina [trade] marks, grossly exacerbating an already untenable situation ripe for confusion in the industry," Mirina said in its request.

"For example, if a potential investor or partner heard or read a negative review about an RNA biotech company from Seattle named Marina, given the limited resources available in today's economy, coupled with the numerous companies looking for support, that potential investor or partner may make a quick initial decision to not give further consideration to Mirina based on an incorrect assumption that it is the same company it had heard negative things about in the past," Mirina stated in its preliminary injunction request.

In fact, Mirina pointed out that Marina itself had confused the companies' names.

Specifically, Marina's French wrote in the declaration that Mirina had alleged in earlier filings that Marina had "admitted changing our name was 'quick and easy.'" He then goes on to state that "Marina both misrepresents my comments … and takes them out of context," when he appears to mean that Mirina had misrepresented the comments.

The court ultimately rejected the injunction request, ruling in March that Mirina has “raised only serious questions on the merits of its infringement claim,” and not shown that it would suffer “irreparable harm” if Marina is allowed to continue using its name (GSN 3/10/2011).

Shortly thereafter, the companies agreed to drop all claims and counterclaims against each other. They also agreed that each would bear its own costs and attorneys' fees.

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Court filings revealed that Marina had initially offered Mirina $50,000 in cash to end the matter, but that offer was rejected by Accelerator CEO Carl Weissman, who countered with a request for $100,000 in cash and $400,000 in Marina stock. That proposal was rejected by Marina.

Getting Its Groove On

In a statement, Groove's Vice President of research David McElligott said that the company's new name would identify it as a “unique” player in the RNA drugs space with “a name and brand that are as equally unique.”

The name “also reflects our corporate philosophy in that creating something new requires improvisation and not just playing the same notes as everyone else,” he said.

Weissman added in the statement that Groove will continue to use the Mirina trademark in relation to its miRNA drug-discovery and -development services.

According to the company's website, these services are specifically related to the identification and delivery of miRNAs “for the development of its novel therapeutic candidates for oncology, infectious disease, and fibrotic conditions.” The company also said that “modification of conventional miRNA antagonists” with its technology has been shown to “greatly enhance potency in cell-based assays.”

David Schubert, Accelerator's president and CBO, told Gene Silencing News that Groove is currently working on closing an additional round of financing, primarily through Accelerator's existing network of investors, and that the company expects to enter investigational new drug application-enabling studies, most likely for an oncology drug candidate, next year.

He declined to provide specific details about that research.

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