HAMBURG, Germany - RiNA Netzwerk, a newly founded, Berlin-based network of research institutions, clinics and companies, intends to coordinate efforts to develop therapeutic and diagnostic applications of RNA. So far the network has attracted at least one U.S. biotechnology company, which formed a German-based firm.

“RNA molecules are not just an important part of the genetic system in cells. They can be used in a variety of biotechnology applications,“ RNA specialist Volker Erdmann told BioWorld International. Erdmann is director of the Institut for Biochemistry at Freie Universität Berlin.

“RNA can be utilized to build bioreactors for the in vitro production of proteins in high yield. Catalytic RNA molecules called ribozymes are able to cleave messenger RNA molecules and hence can serve as therapeutic tools to control gene expression,“ Erdmann said. “Small RNA molecules called aptamers can be selected to bind at almost any target with high affinity and specificity. This can be used for the identification of drug targets, for diagnostic purposes - to build biosensors - or to produce therapeutic compounds cheaper and much more specific than antibodies.“

Erdmann, an RNA specialist, has been the driving force behind the formation of the RiNA Netzwerk, an alliance of 38 partners from universities, medical clinics, research institutions and companies located mostly in the Berlin-Brandenburg area. The network is designed to speed up the commercial application of research findings.

“We will help clinicians to define targets and to develop a therapeutic strategy, will produce the necessary molecules and help to find an industrial partner from our pool,“ Erdmann explained.

A core facility will produce high-quality RNA molecules for the participating partners. The development of special bioreactors for in vitro production and modification of proteins is under development.

Setup of the network, which will be organized as a commercial enterprise and self-financed through service and licenses, will be supported by a 10-year grant of DM120 million, funded equally from federal, state and industry sources.

The final document to release the grant has yet to be inked, but even now investors and companies are rushing in.

In June, Ribozyme Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Boulder, Colo., announced creation of a US$50 million target validation and discovery company named Atugen GmbH, in Berlin. Ribozyme officials said one of the main reasons it chose Berlin was the emerging RNA network.

“I get inquiries from as far as Japan,“ Erdmann said. “Meanwhile, we are negotiating with another major U.S.-based RNA company. Besides, even venture capital companies and banks are asking to become members of the network. Clearly, to be in on it enables you to hear the grass grow.“

One of RiNA's founding members, Noxxon Pharma AG, of Berlin, already entered a DM2.8 million cooperation with Grünenthal GmbH, of Stolberg, Germany. *