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Tekmira Sues Partner Alnylam for Misuse of Trade Secrets


By Doug Macron

Tekmira Pharmaceuticals announced this week that it has sued partner Alnylam Pharmaceuticals for allegedly misappropriating and misusing trade secrets and other confidential information related to its core lipid nanoparticle technology.

The disclosure comes just days after Alnylam reported that it had settled a separate intellectual property lawsuit with the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Massachusetts (related story, this issue).

Alnylam and Tekmira had long been partners in the RNAi field, working together since as early as 2006 when Tekmira was still known as Protiva Biotherapeutics (GSN 3/20/2006). Since that time, the companies have expanded their relationship on several occasions (GSN 4/3/2008), and Alnylam currently uses Tekmira's nanoparticle technology in a number of its pipeline programs, while Tekmira incorporates Alnylam siRNA-related IP and know-how in its own drug candidates. Additionally, Tekmira is the contractual manufacturer of lipid nanoparticle delivery vehicles for Alnylam.

Despite the closeness of the two firms, Tekmira said in its complaint that it never granted Alnylam ownership of the delivery technology. “Tekmira made a number of disclosures of its delivery technology to Alnylam … [and] did so under the protection of written agreements that restricted Alnylam's right to use Tekmira's confidential information and trade secrets, and that strictly prohibited Alnylam from disclosing such information to third parties without first obtaining Tekmira's consent.

“The delivery technology remained Tekmira's property before, during, and after” the collaboration, Tekmira added.

However, “Alnylam abused its collaborator status and access to [the] confidential information by improperly using this information for its own internal purposes and to replicate a competing technology in ways that were unauthorized and without our consent,” Tekmira President and CEO Mark Murray said during a conference call held to discuss the lawsuit.

“Alnylam repeatedly went so far as to use our proprietary delivery technology to apply for patents based on our confidential information, claiming as its own the very technology that it stole,” he said. “This illegal activity continues today, as Alnylam continues to prosecute patent filings that use or are derived from our technology.”

Murray noted that several patent applications containing Tekmira's confidential and proprietary information have been published. Among them are WO2009111658, entitled “Compositions and Methods for Inhibiting Expression of Eg5 and VEGF Genes;” WO2010048228, entitled “Compositions and Methods for Inhibiting Expression of Transthyretin;” and WO2010054405, entitled “Novel Lipids and Compositions for the Delivery of Therapeutics.”

According to the suit, Alnylam allegedly used Tekmira's lead lipid nanoparticle formulation, which was incorporated into the first generation of Alnylam's cancer drug candidate ALN-VSP, to develop additional, unauthorized formulations. Among these is the so-called MC3 lipid, which Alnylam recently said would be used in its upcoming cholesterol candidate ALN-PCS (GSN 11/11/2010).

“Alnylam stole MC3 from Tekmira,” the lawsuit charges.

Alnylam has “falsely claimed that it can provide [lipid nanoparticle] delivery technology to others in place of Tekmira,” Murray said. “Alnylam's so-called second-generation delivery formulations that it says it has developed are actually based on and developed from Tekmira's technology and do not belong to Alnylam.”

The suit specifically cites Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis as two companies Alnylam has courted with claims that it can provide “novel siRNA delivery formulations” instead of Tekmira.

“Alnylam further harmed Tekmira by disclosing our proprietary technology, including in at least one instance, providing step-by-step formulation manufacturing instructions to a third party, without our consent,” Murray noted.

In the lawsuit, filed in the Business Litigation Session of the Massachusetts Superior Court, Tekmira “seeks to restore our [lipid nanoparticle] technology to us, its rightful owner, and also seeks remedies for gross wrong-doing by Alnylam,” Murray said. “Alnylam has harmed Tekmira and its shareholders through the misappropriation of confidential information, including commercially valuable trade secrets; by disclosing that information without Tekmira’s consent; willfully and maliciously misusing this information for their own enrichment; and engaging in other unfairly competitive practices, including false advertising in their public disclosures about Tekmira and Tekmira’s technology.”

He added that Tekmira has made “repeated requests of Alnylam to desist in these practices, but to no avail. Alnylam has consistently ignored these requests.

“As a result, after considering all options, we concluded that the only recourse to protect our technology and the interests of our shareholders was to file this lawsuit,” Murray said.

Tekmira's suit seeks, among other things, damages and an injunction barring Alnylam and its employees from improperly using or transferring Tekmira trade secrets.

In a statement, Alnylam said that it received “no prior notification of this complaint or dispute.

“We firmly believe that the complaint filed by Tekmira is without merit or foundation, and we intend to fully defend ourselves in this matter,” Alnylam President and COO Barry Greene added in the statement. “Given the longstanding supportive and fully collaborative relationship we have had with Tekmira, it is surprising and extremely unfortunate that they have chosen to voice concerns through unexpected litigation rather than constructive business dialog.”

Alnylam noted that Tekmira has indicated that it will continue to meet its manufacturing obligations under the companies' agreements.

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