LONDON—Last summer, Silence Therapeutics and AstraZeneca signed a three-year deal to develop novel siRNA therapeutics against specific targets exclusive to AstraZeneca, a move which gave AstraZeneca a huge boost in its aims to invest more heavily in RNAi technology—an arena in which competitors Roche and Merck had already invested. Now, a mere six months later, Silence and AstraZeneca are already jumping to the next level, announcing a separate collaboration under which they will focus on developing a range of novel approaches for the delivery of siRNA molecules. Financial details have not been disclosed.
The deal builds on Silence Therapeutics' expertise in the delivery of siRNA molecules, in particular its success with the functional, systemic delivery of siRNA in vivo using its proprietary AtuPLEX technology.
"Right now we have a very effective technology that is lipid-based but not a liposome, and it does very well delivering into endothelial cell types," says Jeff Vick, president and CEO of Silence Therapeutics. "AstraZeneca has seen what we can do and what they see is a strong partner to not only work on the technology we already have, but to move on to next-gen technology."
Generally speaking, the deal aims to broaden the types of cells that can be addressed with siRNA delivery technology and to expand the therapeutic indications for siRNA-based treatments.
"We have a system that works well with endothelial cells, so we're into oncology and cardiovascular and lungs right now," Vick notes. "But we would like to look at other types of delivery to get to other cell types and potentially even other routes of administration. We're intravenous right now but perhaps localized or inhaled formulations could soon be in our future."
Vick says the new deal with AstraZeneca is certainly a validation for Silence Therapeutics' expertise, but even more than that, he says it is a validation of the bright future siRNA seems to have. He adds that to his knowledge, this is the first time a big pharma company has struck a deal for siRNA delivery research.
Under the terms of the agreement, both Silence Therapeutics and AstraZeneca will be allowed to commercialize the novel delivery systems that they develop together. Silence Therapeutics will retain the right to sign further delivery deals to capture value from its current AtuPLEX delivery technology as well as any improvements to this technology that it generates either independently or as part of this collaboration.
The earlier deal with Silence in July 2007 was part of a core externalization strategy at AstraZeneca to access new technology and innovative science, says Dr. Frances A. Sutcliffe, communications director for AstraZeneca's Global R&D division—and this latest deal is a move to build even more value from that.
"We are very happy with the working relationship we have developed with the team at Silence Therapeutics and the progress made over the last six months," says Claude Bertrand, global vice president for the Discovery Respiratory & Inflammation division at AstraZeneca. "[This] announcement is designed to generate the novel delivery approaches that are needed if this exciting class of novel drugs is to realize fully its potential. Based on Silence Therapeutics' significant current expertise in siRNA delivery we are confident that we have found a strong partner to achieve our ambitions in this area."
"We at Silence have long recognized that drug delivery is a big challenge in the siRNA space and we plan to overcome that by putting our knowledge together with AstraZeneca's," Vick says. "Our competitors have discovered that challenge as well and are largely still trying to solve it. We've already had success in overcoming the problem and plan to build on that success with the help of Astra."