An antisense-ible arrangement

Evotec and Secarna partner on antisense-based therapeutics

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MUNICH & HAMBURG, Germany—Antisense drug discovery company Secarna Pharmaceuticals GmbH & Co. KG and Evotec have inked a strategic partnership centered on antisense oligonucleotide (ASO)-based therapeutics, hoping to take advantage of a growing field.

While specific financial details were not released, the agreement covers a long-term platform collaboration involving a variety of indications. Evotec and Secarna will seek to develop a pipeline of co-owned antisense oligonucleotide therapies, and have already identified their first program. According to a press release, companies will be able to partner with Evotec and Secarna to access the pipeline.

“Partnering with Evotec will allow us to fully leverage the capabilities of our LNAplus technology platform above and beyond Secarna’s already successfully established in-house and partnered programs,” said Jonas Renz, managing director at Secarna. “By combining Secarna’s industry leading antisense oligonucleotide expertise with Evotec’s unparalleled discovery and development capabilities, we strive to create a high-value, co-owned antisense therapeutics pipeline.”

Said pipeline will benefit from Evotec’s capabilities in drug development, which span from “target-to-clinic” and involve multiple indications, and Secarna’s proprietary LNAplus platform with third-generation LNA-chemistry, which enables the company to engineer molecules with improved potency and a comprehensive safety profile. The platform generates antisense molecules that bind specifically to the RNA of the gene target, and due to being prescreened and selected for high potential activity, Secarna says there is little need for lead optimization, which shortens the development process.

Dr. Cord Dohrmann, chief scientific officer of Evotec, commented: “This strategic partnership with Secarna further complements Evotec’s multimodality platform. Evotec strives to identify the best possible interventions to develop disease modifying therapies in indications with high unmet medical need. Secarna is a leading provider of proven ASO technology with a unique platform to support early-stage ASO identification and selection. We look forward to establishing a joint antisense pipeline to make new therapeutic options available to our industry partners and the many patients who urgently need them.”

Renz tells DDN that the field of antisense therapies has seen waxing and waning interest over the years, with interest largely on the upswing in the last three or four years. He points to some of the key drivers of that increased popularity being Roche’s 2014 acquisition of Santaris Pharma and its Locked Nucleic Acid platform, as well as Biogen’s ASO nusinersen (also known as Spinraza), which was approved for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy.

As for the range of indications that antisense therapeutics can target, Renz says this technology is ideally suited for targets in the liver and kidneys, as well as issues such as fibrosis, central nervous system disorders, and even immuno-oncology. Secarna’s own personal pipeline boasts 15 programs in indications that include immuno-oncology, immunology, ophthalmology, viral diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and cardiometabolic diseases.

“If you’re actively targeting therapeutics at the messenger RNA level, you have the ability of being extremely selective and specific in terms of what you’re targeting, which you will never achieve with any other modality such as small molecules—which is the only alternative, really, if you’re thinking about intracellular targets,” he explains. “So you’re able to selectively silence or downregulate disease-causing genes in a way that you cannot with any other technology, and this allows you to really hit a disease at its root cause, as opposed to blocking a protein, blocking a signaling pathway, or dealing with metabolites of certain small molecules. That really is the game-changer in terms of the overall armory that drug developers have at their disposal.”

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