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RNAi Roundup #4

While everyone was focused on Avandia & Qnexa, a spate of RNAi-related news slipped past us:

Tekmira Pharmaceuticals scored a major contract through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Transformational Medical Technologies program. The biotech will use its lipid nanoparticle technology to deliver siRNA tailored to treat the Ebola virua. Tekmira could snag up to $34.7 million over the next three years to help bring the Ebola virus candidate through an investigational new drug filing and a Phase I clinical trial. If the government decides to extend the contract beyond Phase I, Tekmira is eligible for up to $140 million in funding. The contract comes a few months after Tekmira and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases published an article in The Lancet showing its lipid nanoparticle could protect non-human primates against the Ebola virus.

Nitto Denko of Japan and Fremont, Calif.-based Quark Pharmaceuticals will jointly develop RNAi-based drugs to treat fibrotic diseases. The companies will use Quark’s RNAi technology and patent fortress, and Nitto Denko’s drug delivery technology. Terms weren’t disclosed, but the companies say they “have an initial budget of double-digit million US dollars” with the goal of filing their first investigational new drug application with FDA by early 2012. Nitto, which has expertise in polymeric formulations, says it picked Quark because of the chemical modification it had made to the siRNA that have eliminated worries over an immune response from the therapeutic.

AstraZeneca has extended its siRNA research pact with Silence Therapeutics by one year. The companies have worked together since 2007 on finding five novel siRNA therapeutic molecules for oncology and respiratory diseases. The duo forged a separate pact around siRNA delivery in April.

–The NIH has awarded RXi Pharmaceuticals a small business innovation research grant (SBIR) worth $600,000 to support the pre-clinical development of RNAi-based therapeutics. NIH has seen a surge in applications for SBIR grants amid a tougher financing climate for biotechs. RXi is eligible for an additional $1 million per year for up to three years during the second phase of the SBIR’s program.

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals has dosed its first patient in a Phase I clinical trial of ALN-TTR01, a systemically-delivered RNAi therapeutic for the treatment of transthyretin (TTR)-mediated amyloidosis, a rare, inherited disease in which a mutation in the TTR gene causes the build up of the toxic protein in the several tissues in the body. This study is designed to test the safety of the drug and show whether the drug is impacting TTR levels in the blood.

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