SAN FRANCISCO—The cash keeps flowing for the dominant players in developing RNAi therapies, as evidenced recently by a multi-year strategic alliance between pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline and siRNA specialist Sirna Therapeutics Inc. The deal, which will focus on the discovery, development and commercialization of novel RNAi-based therapeutics for respiratory diseases, has the potential to pump more than $700 million into Sirna coffers.
Under the terms of the deal, Sirna will receive an upfront payment of $12 million comprised of cash and the purchase of Sirna common stock at a price of $8.36. In return, Sirna will provide GSK with optimized and formulated siRNAs against agreed upon targets. GSK will handle all areas of preclinical and clinical development as well as commercialization of any products resulting from the alliance.
"We have other significant alliances and partnerships related to our leadership in this area," says Michael French, senior VP of corporate development for Sirna. "But you have to be able to sit back and see that this is a transforming event for the company. They weren't interested in a one-off alliance, they needed to be assured that what we are doing is reproducible and what better company is there to partner with on respiratory therapeutics than GSK?
"We are looking at those downstream milestones as a way of funding our own internal program in the coming years."
For GSK the choice of working with Sirna was based on the results the company has had with its program in recent years, including its position as the first company to advance an optimized siRNA into human clinical trials.
"Although there are many companies working with RNAi there are very few that have demonstrated the capability to take this forward as a therapeutic as opposed to a research tool," says Ruppert Vessey, vice president, respiratory & inflammation, Center of Excellence in Drug Discovery at GSK. "Sirna is one of few companies to do this and therefore offers a route toward a new therapeutic platform."
French notes that in addition to this, Sirna also stands out from other potential RNAi companies because it has the ability to take a potential therapeutic from discovery all the way to manufacturing. "There is potential as a part of this deal for Sirna to provide contract manufacturing for any products that result from this alliance," he says.
While the companies are still hammering out details on specific respiratory therapeutic areas, asthma and COPD are logical choices given that the collaborations seeks to combine GSK's respiratory drug delivery technology.