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Through Deal with Lilly, Sirna Becomes Next RNAi Drugs Firm to Get Big Pharma s Support

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It seems that in most cases, big pharma is maintaining a wait-and-see attitude on RNAi-based drugs and will continue to rely on small- molecule approaches to therapeutics. But as patents on blockbuster medicines expire and drug pipelines increasingly run dry, some are looking into whether RNAi can be used for more than target validation. Such is the case with a deal just announced between Sirna Therapeutics and Eli Lilly.

Under the terms of the 18-month arrangement, Sirna will generate modified siRNAs against specific oncology targets provided by Lilly. Lilly will then test the siRNAs in various animal models, Sirna president and CEO Howard Robin told RNAi News. If the preclinical data are positive, he said, Lilly “can then talk to us about licensing that technology.”

Robin noted that the deal is not an exclusive one, meaning that Sirna is free to pursue oncology partnerships with other parties. He added that Sirna owns all data coming out of the collaboration and that the deal does not provide Lilly with a right of first refusal on taking a

“This way, we get to work with a very important company like Lilly, and we make a value judgment at the end of the program as to whether we want to proceed and what that is worth,” Robin said.

Sirna stands to receive a “respectable” amount of research funding from Lilly under the partnership, Robin said, although specific financial terms remain undisclosed.

Robin said that Sirna had been discussing the possibility of a partnership with Lilly for the last six to eight months, and that Lilly’s expertise with nucleic acids helped lead the drugs giant to the conclusion that it wanted to add siRNAs to its therapeutics research portfolio.

“Lilly’s involvement in nucleic acid-based therapeutics began in earnest in 2001 through our collaboration with Isis Pharmaceuticals,” Richard Gaynor, vice president of cancer research at Lilly, said in a statement. “That positive experience, which continues, has led us to expand our investigation of nucleic acid technologies into the field of RNA interference.”

The Sirna/Lilly deal comes a little more than five months after Alnylam Pharmaceuticals announced that it had struck a five-year deal with drug maker Merck to develop RNAi-based therapeutics. (See RNAi News, 9/12/2003). It is also the latest in a series of events strongly indicating that oncology is to officially be Sirna’s third disease area of interest along with age-related macular degeneration and hepatitis C. (See RNAi News, 1/23/2004).

—DM

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