Alnylam CEO: Tekmira Accusation of Trade Secret Misuse was a “Big Surprise”

3/18/11Follow @xconomy

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals CEO John Maraganore found out his firm was getting sued by one of its business partners for more than $1 billion when an e-mail arrived in his inbox a few minutes after a press release on Wednesday.

This was a bombshell, to say the least. The CEO of Vancouver, BC-based Tekmira Pharmaceuticals said in a conference call that Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam has committed “relentless and egregious” misappropriation of Tekmira’s trade secrets. Alnylam, as companies often do, responded in a statement the next morning, saying it believes the accusation has no merit and it plans to defend itself.

I spoke to Maraganore by phone shortly after Alnylam issued its statement to find out more. But before diving into what he had to say, a little background is necessary:

On one side, you have Alnylam (NASDAQ: ALNY), one of the leaders in RNA interference therapy—which seeks to specifically silence disease-related genes. On the other, there’s Tekmira, a leading developer of lipid nanoparticles which are used to get those RNA-specific therapies where they must be in cells. No RNAi treatment has yet won FDA approval, and scientists say delivery remains one of the major challenges that must be solved for this field to reach its potential. These two companies have been working together since at least 2006, according to Alnylam’s statement. Two of Alnylam’s most important drug candidates in development now use the Tekmira delivery technology.

You can listen to what Tekmira CEO Mark Murray said about this case, through the archived teleconference. Here’s what Maraganore had to say, edited as always for length and clarity:

Xconomy: How did you actually find out about this litigation?

John Maraganore: An e-mail.

X: From your lawyer?

JM: No, from Mark (Murray) saying they just filed suit against us. We weren’t even aware until the press release of any dispute or concern they have with our relationship. It was, completely, a big surprise. We had no information, no evidence raised, no concern voiced, no anxiety voiced, no phone call that said ‘hey, we’re worried about XYZ.’ Nothing. It was very surprising and a completely unanticipated move on their part. I don’t think it’s a good strategy when you have a partnership. It’s certainly not a good strategy when you have a partner that has done as much funding as we have in the past, and frankly, has been there to support them for many, many years. It’s not what I would call the best example of relationship management I’ve ever seen.

Alnylam CEO John Maraganore

X: But John, Mark Murray said on the conference call that Tekmira asked you repeatedly to stop this activity which they say is infringing on their trade secrets, and they got no response.

JM: In our view, that is completely untrue.

X: How does this affect you operationally? ALN-VSP, the liver cancer program, relies on their lipid nanoparticle delivery system. I think ALN-TTR (for TTR amyloidosis) does too. Is that right?

JM: Yes. All of our LNPs (lipid nanoparticles for RNAi delivery) are being manufactured by Tekmira. Right now, Alnylam’s current relationship with Tekmira is really limited to manufacturing. The work we do on new LNPs in discovery is done through our relationship with MIT, our relationship with AlCana, our relationship with the University of British Columbia, our relationship with Max Planck Society. We have separate and distinct research going on for new LNP delivery technologies. So right now, the work with Tekmira is focused on manufacturing. And as part of the communication we received from them, they made it clear they will continue their obligations in manufacturing. So we see no operational limitations.

X: Where might this be coming from? Do you guys … Next Page »

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