Alnylam Shoots for the Moon in 2009, Predicts Two More Deals To Come

1/12/09Follow @xconomy

Somebody forgot to tell Alnylam Pharmaceuticals the economy is in the tank. The Cambridge, MA-based biotech company said it expects to sign two more partnerships this year with big drugmakers to develop its proprietary technology and that it expects to ring in 2010 with a war chest of about $435 million still left in the bank.

Alnylam (NASDAQ: ALNY), a leading developer of RNA interference technology, which aims to shut down activity of disease-causing genes, made the announcement yesterday evening as biotech industry players were arriving at San Francisco’s Union Square for the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference.

“We are more excited than ever about the potential of RNAi therapeutics as a transformative approach for innovative medicines,” said John Maraganore, Alnylam’s CEO, in a statement.

Alnylam has made plenty of news in the past year. It signed a partnership last week with Lexington, MA-based Cubist Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CBST) to co-develop a locally-delivered RNA interference drug for respiratory syncytial virus, a potentially deadly lung infection. That drug, Alnylam’s furthest along in development, is expected to produce results from a mid-stage trial in 2009. Alnylam has also been working feverishly to crack the toughest problem in the field of RNAi—how to deliver these drugs effectively throughout the body. Alnylam plans to initiate the first clinical trial of such a drug this year, as a treatment against liver cancer; the formulation to be tested uses lipid nanoparticles to protect the drug from being degraded in the bloodstream.

Company scientists published in 14 different peer-reviewed journal articles about the company’s technology in 2008, and Alnylam said it wants to raise the goal to 15 this year. The company also expects to nail down at least 15 new patents related to RNAi chemistry and delivery; RNA activation (the opposite of RNA interference); and microRNA. (Regulus Therapeutics, Alnylam’s 50/50 joint venture with Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS), focuses on microRNA-based drugs.)

Big partnerships in 2008 with Japan-based Takeda Pharmaceuticals and Switzerland-based Roche enabled the company to finish 2008 flush with more than $500 million in cash, an enviable spot compared with the financial status of 40 publicly-traded biotechs in Massachusetts that I analyzed a couple months ago. Alnylam still doesn’t have any products of its own to sell, so it expects it will have a net loss of $35 million to $45 million in 2009. Even so, the company should close this year with $435 million cash on hand, said Patricia Allen, Alnylam’s vice president of finance, in the statement.

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