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Sirna, UMMS, Alnylam, Harvard, Fisher Scientific, Thermo Electron, Qiagen


Sirna Sees New Big Pharma Collaboration on Horizon ...

Sirna Therapeutics is expecting to ink another big pharma collaboration over the next 12 months, which could allow the company to expand its product pipeline, according to President and CEO Howard Robin.

Speaking last week during a conference call to discuss Sirna's first-quarter financial results, Robin noted that "we are engaged in discussions with many large pharmaceutical companies at this point, and I do believe in the course of the next year you'll see another deal from Sirna."

He noted that "at some point in the future, we'd like to take on some additional programs [and] I think we'll do that as we conclude more deals with large pharmaceutical companies."

In response to an analyst's question about what indications are attractive to Sirna but are challenging from a delivery perspective, Robin pointed to diabetes, adding that "we've already demonstrated in an animal model that we can get very nice knockdown of PTP-1B targeting the liver. Here is a disease that's also amenable to multifunctional siRNAs to go after multiple targets in a fairly complex pathway. I think metabolic disease, diabetes, is an area we are likely to spend some time on in the future."

... And Picks Up Rights to UMMS microRNA-Silencing Technology

Sirna Therapeutics this week officially threw its hat into the microRNA ring, announcing that it had licensed from the University of Massachusetts Medical School the exclusive rights to a series of patents covering miRNA-modulating technology.

According to the company, the deal gives it all rights to the so-called anti-RISC oligonucleotide technology â€" which comprises short pieces of oligos that bind to and block the function of specific miRNAs â€" for therapeutic, diagnostic, and research applications. Financial terms of the arrangement were not disclosed.

Sirna's acquisition of the anti-RISC oligo rights from UMMS follows the recent acquisition of another miRNA-inhibition technology, known as antagomirs, by rival Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (see RNAi News, 11/4/2005). Also developing miRNA inhibitors is Santaris Pharma, which is expecting to have an miRNA-targeting drug in the clinic as early as 2007 (see RNAi News, 5/4/2006).

Specific details of Sirna's anti-RISC technology were not available. However, the company noted that it was developed by UMMS' Phillip Zamore, a co-founder of Alnylam, and Gyorgy Hutvagner. However, a patent application, No. 20050227256, that lists both researchers as inventors is on file with the US Patent and Trademark Office and describes the use of a 2'-O-methyl oligonucleotide to inactivate RISC in order to silence an miRNA.

Alnylam Licenses Delivery Technology from Harvard

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals said this week that it has licensed the rights to an RNAi delivery technology developed by Judy Lieberman, a researcher in Harvard Medical School's CBR Institute for Biomedical Research.

The technology, which was described in Nature Biotechnology in June 2005, involves a protamine-antibody fusion protein that had been designed by Lieberman and colleagues to deliver siRNA to HIV-infected or envelope-transfected cells.

According to Alnylam, the technology "may enable small interfering RNAs … to be targeted with an engineered monoclonal antibody to tumors and other cell types, thereby broadening the scope of Alnylam's delivery technologies for RNAi therapeutics.

"Our work in the area of RNAi demonstrates that antibody fusion proteins could potentially mediate both systemic and cell-type-specific delivery of siRNAs," Lieberman said in a statement.

Terms of the licensing deal were not disclosed.

Fisher Scientific, Thermo Electron to Merge in $10.6B Deal

Fisher Scientific, the parent firm of Dharmacon, and Thermo Electron announced this week that they will merge in a stock-for-stock deal expected to result in a company with $9 billion in revenues and $1 billion in cash flow in 2007.

The deal was unanimously approved by the boards for both companies and is expected to close in the fourth quarter. The resultant company will be named Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Under the terms of the deal, Fisher shareholders will receive 2 shares of Thermo common stock for each share of Fisher held. Based on Thermo's closing price of $39.45 per share on May 5, the deal values Fisher's stock at $78.90.

Qiagen Reports 14-Percent Rise in Q1 Sales; Will Close Norway Unit, Relocate Some Parts to Germany

Qiagen this week reported a 14-percent increase in first-quarter revenues and 26-percent rise in profit.

Qiagen also said it plans to close its manufacturing and R&D facility in Oslo, Norway, and relocate various components to its European headquarters in Hilden, Germany.

Receipts for the first quarter of 2006 totaled $108.7 million, compared to $95 million in the year-ago period.

Qiagen said the growth was fueled by an approximately 16-percent overall increase in consumables sales, with a 15-percent spike in organic growth and a 7-percent contribution from acquisitions. Qiagen also said that its instrumentation business logged 7 percent organic growth for the quarter.

R&D expenses for the quarter were $10.2 million, up slightly from $9.5 million one year ago.

Qiagen's net income for the quarter rose to $17.6 million from $13.9 million in Q1 2005.

As of March 31, Qiagen had approximately $198 million in cash and cash equivalents on hand.

Regarding the Oslo relocation, the company said it expects to complete the move in the second quarter. Qiagen said the move will result in an increase in future profitability.

The Scan

More Boosters for US

Following US Food and Drug Administration authorization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has endorsed booster doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, the Washington Post writes.

From a Pig

A genetically modified pig kidney was transplanted into a human without triggering an immune response, Reuters reports.

For Privacy's Sake

Wired reports that more US states are passing genetic privacy laws.

Science Paper on How Poaching Drove Evolution in African Elephants

In Science this week: poaching has led to the rapid evolution of tuskless African elephants.