Though the big players in RNAi therapeutics continue to dominate the field in terms of bringing drugs into the clinic, newcomers to the field are also making headway.
About a week after licensing certain of its siRNA-related technology to Merck, SR Pharma said that two of its siRNA molecules are slated to enter the clinic this year through a collaboration with Quark Biotech.
Meanwhile Calando Pharmaceuticals reported this week that it has secured an additional $10 million in funding from its parent company Arrowhead Research. The money is expected to give the RNAi startup flexibility in pursuing potential partnerships.
SR Pharma's Atugen unit, which was acquired in July 2005 (see RNAi News, 7/29/2005), has been collaborating with Quark since at least early last year to develop chemically modified siRNAs, including ones targeting the gene RTP801 for age-related macular degeneration (see RNAi News, 3/18/2005).
Now, this alliance has yielded two clinical candidates, according to SR Pharma Executive Chairman Iain Ross.
Although Calando is still interested in partnerships, the additional cash enables it to begin phase I testing on its own if it decided to. "It … helps us keep on our own internal path and then judge any different collaborative efforts in terms of what they truly bring to the table."
"Two of … Atugen's siRNA molecules will be going into the clinic later this year through the collaboration with Quark," Ross told RNAi News this week in an e-mail. "They informed us recently that these will be for acute renal failure and AMD. We have supplied the siRNAs to [Quark] under a license, and they are funding [the] development."
Officials from Quark did not return a request for comment, and details about the planned clinical trials were not available. However, in an interview with RNAi News roughly one year ago, Quark CEO Daniel Zurr said that the company was pursuing targeting RTP801, a gene involved in neovascularization, vascular permeability, and apoptosis, in its AMD program.
Also about a year ago, Quark announced that it had received a notice of allowance for a US patent, which the company licensed from the University of Illinois at Chicago, covering the inhibition of p53, a transcription factor associated with DNA repair and apoptosis, as a therapeutic. The company said at the time that it was exploring the use of p53 inhibitors for the treatment for acute renal failure and chemotherapy-induced hair loss.
Ross added in his e-mail this week that SR Pharma remains on track to enter its own RNAi-based drug into phase I testing for cancer in "early 2007."
News of Quark's planned clinical studies comes about a week after SR Pharma announced that Merck had licensed certain of Atugen's siRNA-related know-how for use with an undisclosed disease-relevant target gene and pathway. SR Pharma said that the non-exclusive worldwide license "will allow Merck to fully elucidate the therapeutic potential of [the] target gene."
Specific terms of the arrangement were not disclosed.
Separately this week Calando announced that it had received a $10 million cash infusion from parent firm Arrowhead Research, which will "allow Calando to accelerate preclinical testing of its RNAi therapeutics and to facilitate additional collaborations with large biotech and pharmaceutical companies."
John Petrovich, CEO of Calando, declined to provide details on this accelerated preclinical testing or comment on when the company expects to move into the clinic beyond stating that "we're making progress. We've identified some target sequences and we're beginning to do preclinical in vivo work on things." He added that Calando still expects its first clinical candidate will be in the oncology field.
As for potential collaborations, Petrovich told RNAi News that the funding from Arrowhead "puts us in the position to maintain our independence a little more … as opposed to having to necessarily get into a collaboration."
He said that although Calando is still interested in partnerships, the additional cash permits the company to begin phase I testing on its own if it decided to. "It … helps us keep on our own internal path and then judge any different collaborative efforts in terms of what they truly bring to the table," he said.
• Doug Macron ([email protected])