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UMass, Whitehead Fire New Salvo in Tuschl IP Suit

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The University of Massachusetts and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research returned fire against the Max Planck Institute and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals in their ongoing legal battle, counterclaiming that, among other things, Max Planck inappropriately sought to replace the Whitehead-appointed law firm overseeing prosecution of the intellectual property at issue in the case.
UMass further argued in its counterclaim that a key aspect of the disputed RNAi technology — the 3' overhangs commonly incorporated into siRNAs — was an inherent feature of the RNAi molecules described in a patent application filed prior to another patent application from Max Planck that specifically claims the overhangs.

The litigation began in June when Alnylam and Max Planck sued -UMass, Whitehead, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for allegedly misappropriating certain RNAi inventions, most notably the use of 3' overhangs on siRNAs, from the Tuschl-II patent family and included them in patent applications from the Tuschl-I IP estate.

Both Tuschl-I and Tuschl-II generally relate to the use of siRNAs, 21 to 23 nucleotides in length, to target specific mRNA degradation in mammals. However, Tuschl-II includes claims on two- to three-nucleotide-long 3' overhangs. Both are named after former Max Planck researcher Thomas Tuschl, an Alnylam co-founder who is now a researcher at Rockefeller University.

Alnylam acquired the exclusive therapeutic rights to the Tuschl-II family from the IP's sole owner, Max Planck, but shares therapeutic rights to the Tuschl-I estate — invented at Max Planck, Whitehead, MIT, and UMass — with Merck subsidiary Sirna Therapeutics and, to a limited degree, RXi Pharmaceuticals.

Alnylam and Max Planck maintained in their lawsuit that if any Tuschl-II inventions are included in Tuschl-I patents, Sirna, RXi, and any other companies sublicensing Tuschl-I will "unfairly gain access to the Tuschl-II property without paying consideration for a license."

— Doug Macron


RNAi Notes

Australia-based Benitec received a notice of allowance from the US Patent and Trademark Office for its application for the use of multiple-promoter expression cassettes for simultaneous RNAi delivery.

Silence Therapeutics and Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma are collaborating to work on an siRNA drug-delivery system. Silence will use its proprietary siRNA molecules with its in-house AtuPlex delivery technology.

Santaris Pharma and British biopharmaceutical firm Shire will be using locked nucleic acid technology to develop drug candidates for rare genetic disorders. Shire will be doing most of the development as Santaris expands its therapeutic program.


Datapoint

$672 thousand
Amount a subsidiary of New Zealand's Genesis Research and Development will receive to develop single-stranded RNAi technology

Funded Grants

$162,000/FY 2009
Glycobiological Analysis of Plasmodium-Vector Host Interactions
Grantee: Rhoel David Ramos Dinglasan, Johns
Hopkins University
Began: Apr. 1, 2009; Ends: Mar. 31, 2011

To identify protein-glycan interactions between Plasmodium ookinete and the mosquito midgut, Dinglasan and his colleagues will use RNAi to knock down mosquito glycosyl- and sulfo-transferases and analyze midgut glycoconjugates during Plasmodium infection. They will also study the knockout proteome with mass spec.

$282,600/FY 2009
Double-Stranded RNA-Mediated Signaling Pathway and Gene Silencing
Grantee: Yi Liu, University of Texas Southwest
Medical Center
Began: Apr. 1, 2009; Ends: Mar. 31, 2013

With forward and reverse genetic approaches, Liu and his lab plan to characterize the signaling pathway of dsRNA-induced gene transcription. They will also study the role of DNA damage-induced small RNA. This "will reveal the role and the mechanism of RNAi in DNA repair and in maintaining genome stability," says the abstract.

The Scan

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