West Coast Editor

Teaming up to devise therapies for neurodegenerative disorders are the RNA interference company Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. and device firm Medtronic Inc., in a pact that begins with a joint technology development program.

Alnylam's stock (NASDAQ:ALNY) closed Wednesday at $8.10, up 36 cents.

That first effort will "outline a specific research and development approach and milestones that need to be hit so that both parties can agree on the opportunities to move forward," said Barry Greene, chief operating officer of Cambridge, Mass.-based Alnylam.

"We haven't disclosed specifics around the technology milestones, but the flavor is not too dissimilar to the milestone we hit with Merck - in vivo efficacy," he added. Alnylam has two deals with Merck & Co. Inc., of Whitehouse Station, N.J. (See BioWorld Today, July 1, 2004.)

After the companies nail down the R&D specifics, Alnylam will handle discovery and early development of RNAi candidates, with Medtronic doing late-stage work and commercialization of any drug-device products that come out of the effort, adapting medical devices to deliver the RNAi drugs to targeted locations in the central nervous system.

As part of the deal, Medtronic will make an equity investment of an undisclosed amount in Alnylam, with more possibly to follow as milestones are reached. Alnylam also could get cash payments for each product that comes out of the deal, plus royalties for any RNAi component of a drug-device hybrid.

"They're not a company that likes to talk about [terms]," Greene said of Minneapolis-based Medtronic, "and since it's a two-part agreement, it didn't make a whole lot of sense to disclose the terms."

But, he told BioWorld Today, Alnylam's size is such that it can't "get into a situation where we spend a considerable amount of money before we see any back."

Targeted in the Medtronic deal are such illnesses as Huntington's, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. For CNS diseases, Greene noted, "you need a way to get the drug into the brain and the best way to do that is with the kind of medical technology - pumps - that Medtronic has."

For now, Alnylam is using direct RNAi to target the eye, lung and brain. The lung program so far is unpartnered, and involves a program to devise treatments for respiratory syncytial virus. In the eye, part of the Merck effort takes aim at age-related macular degeneration.

"As we further optimize the technology, we'll go after systemic RNAi," which would tackle inflammatory and metabolic disease, as well as cancer, Greene said.

No Comments