By Doug Macron
After failing to meet previous goals of selecting a lead drug candidate and forging corporate partnerships, RXi Pharmaceuticals' new CEO said this week that the company is committed to reaching both of those milestones this year.
"We believe that 2010 will be a … transitional year for the company as we evolve from a research-focused company to one distinguished by our product-development accomplishments and corporate partnerships," Noah Beerman, who assumed leadership of RXi in November (see RNAi News, 11/12/2009), said. "As such, we have set goals we believe reflect the promise of our proprietary technology and will create significant value."
With the "necessary cash in hand" from a $16.2 million public offering announced earlier this month, RXi is "well positioned" to meet its 2010 goals of selecting a product candidate to advance into formal drug development, "refining the [company's] therapeutic focus," and consummating one or more industry partnerships, he said.
Beerman made his comments during a conference call held to discuss RXi's fourth-quarter financial results.
Since it was spun out of CytRx in early 2007, RXi has expressed interested in a wide variety of disease areas and indications. At various times, these have included neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; oncology; metabolic diseases including obesity and type II diabetes; inflammatory conditions; and ocular conditions.
In addition, Pamela Pavco, RXi's vice president of pharmaceutical development, recently presented preclinical data demonstrating that the company's so-called self-delivering rxRNA molecules could knock down target genes in skin cells when delivered via intradermal injection, an effort conducted with an eye toward wound-healing applications.
This week, Beerman said that RXi is currently taking "a multi-factorial approach to looking at various different disease areas that are most amenable with our technology.
"We have, in the past … laid out a number of the different therapeutic areas that we're focused on, although I would say that … we will be pursuing a [more] focused strategy," he said. "To that end, we are currently engaged in a therapeutic strategy project that's going to yield a much more focused message" when it comes to the pipeline.
In terms of selecting a lead drug candidate, RXi's former CEO Tod Woolf told RNAi News last June that the company expected to have done so by the end of 2009 (see RNAi News, 6/25/2009).
Beerman said RXi is now weighing a number of factors as it works to meet this goal during 2010.
The decision-making process is "a combination of what's most amenable with our technology — and our technology has particular attributes for local delivery, but we also believe it has attributes for systemic delivery … [and] those areas that we believe we can get into the clinic sooner than later, which is obviously important for a small company."
Further, the company is considering which diseases have "an attractive commercial potential. They have to be in an area that may be competitive, but [in which we can] carve out differentiating features with our candidate," he added, without elaborating.
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When it comes to finding industry partners, RXi has again missed its previously stated guidance on multiple occasions. Most recently, the company's former CFO Stephen DiPalma said that RXi's first industry partnership would be forged before the end of 2008.
A financial analyst noted during the question-and-answer portion of this week's conference call that RXi remains "one of the only publicly traded RNAi companies that has not been able to secure a corporate partnership," adding that companies including Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, and Silence Therapeutics have all be able to "validate" their technology through such arrangements.
In response, Beerman said that he couldn't "look in the rearview mirror from before I joined the company at the end of last year," but stressed that RXi is "confident" that it will find at least one partner by the end of 2010.
"The corporate partnership is an important piece of all RNAi companies' … strategies, and certainly we're no different," he said. "We continue to be very aggressive in all of our efforts and … continue to have active discussions with a number of different potential partners on a variety of different opportunities."
He added that there remains a "very significant appetite" for RNAi technology deals among big pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms.
For the three-month period ended Dec. 31, 2009, RXi's net loss jumped to $6.1 million, or $0.38 per share, from a year-ago loss of $4 million, or $0.29 per share.
Research and development spending in the quarter edged up to $2.4 million from $2 million, which the company attributed to "non-employee non-cash share-based compensation, as well as compensation and related expenses from the additional headcount to support the company's collaborations and internal discovery efforts."
Fourth-quarter general and administrative costs, meanwhile, slipped to $1.9 million from $2 million.
At the end of 2009, RXi had cash and cash equivalents totaling $5.7 million.