Roche Cuts Back RNAi Research

As part of sweeping job cuts announced this morning, Roche said it would close down RNAi research at three sites: Kulmbach, Germany; Madison, Wis.; and Nutley, NJ. It seemed worth taking a look at how much money Roche has sunk into RNAi research so far, and where it means for the overall RNAi landscape.

Let’s start with the Kulmbach site. Back in 2007, Roche paid Alnylam $331 million in cash and equity for the site, as part of a broad pact covering RNAi drugs for oncology, respiratory diseases, metabolic diseases, and certain liver diseases. The 40 Alnylam employees working at Kulmbach were transferred over to Roche as it made the site its “center of excellence” for RNAi. According to Alnylam’s financial statements, Roche was its largest research collaborator, contributing $14 million last quarter. In 2009, Alnylam recorded $57 million in research revenues from Roche.

In a statement this morning, Alnylam said that Roche’s RNAi overhaul “does not fundamentally impact Alnylalm’s financial position nor current or future plans in building its pipeline and advancing RNAi therapeutics as a whole new class of medicines.”

Now onto the Madison, Wis., site. In 2008, Roche agreed to pay $125 million for Mirus Bio, which brought the Madison site along with 20 employees. As we described in an earlier article, Mirus had devised an siRNA delivery system called dynamic polyconjugate technology.

Which brings us to 2009, when Roche said it would fork over $18.4 million upfront to use Tekmira’s lipid nanoparticle deliver technology to put its RNAi products into the clinic. Mirus’ technology was not quite ready for prime time, and Roche wanted to look at another delivery strategy to accelerate product development. When Roche signed that deal, it said the goal was to put its first RNAi-based product into human trials by the end of 2010. In a statement today, Tekmira noted that most of its revenues comes from a manufacturing deal with Alnylam, and it still has broad partnerships with Pfizer, Takeda, and Bristol-Myers.

The tally? Upfront payments and the Mirus acquisition bring Roche’s investment in RNAi to nearly half a billion dollars in the last three years. That’s not taking into account whatever it was spending on development in Nutley, along with research support to Alnylam and, more modestly, to Tekmira.

Author: Lisa Jarvis

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2 Comments

  1. Nothing surprising here, I mean we have been there and done that. As some one who worked for the major pharmaceutical company and has been tracking this and other development over the years, we all knew this was coming. Previously, we have been exposed to combinatorial synthesis, library design etc. and when all the noise died down, nothing was heard. This such as library design, gene silencing (translation-siRNA) are only tool to discover drugs. If Roche is doing this, Merck can not be far behind and they have lot more $$$$ at stake. Unless one finds an efficient and a cheap way to deliver the siRNA drugs all the way to the nucleus of the cell, success is not assured even if we have the proof of concept molecule for a given disease.

  2. A 5000 global employee without job now

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