Tekmira-Alnylam Lawsuit Centers on Drug Carrier Particles
Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNY) has been working with Tekmira Pharmaceuticals (TSE:TKM) of Vancouver, BC, since at least 2006 on getting its gene-silencing drugs into cells to treat diseases. But the partnership has gone sour. Tekmira has filed a lawsuit that is seeking what could amount to more than $1 billion from Alnylam.
Alnylam, founded in 2002, has been a leader in technology that uses RNA molecules to silence certain disease-related genes. While these drugs hold promise because of their ability to specifically target genes in ways other drugs can’t, the new RNA medicines require special help so they can be effectively delivered to the right place in cells. Alnylam has relied heavily on partners such as Tekmira, which has developed particles to carry gene-silencing compounds in the bloodstream and deliver them to the desired cells. Tekmira, for example, provides the carrier particles (a.k.a lipid nanoparticles) that Alnylam uses for its key experimental drugs for liver cancer (ALN-VSP) and TTR-mediated amyloidosis (ALN-TTR). Tekmira has received more than $45 million in funding from Alnylam through the companies’ partnership activities, and Tekmira stands to gain more money from Alnylam’s potential sales of drugs that use Tekmira’s technology, according to the companies.
Alnylam has filed patents on new carrier particles for RNAi drugs, listing Alnylam scientists as the inventors, according to Alan Carr, a biotech analyst at Needham & Company, who covers Alnylam’s stock. Presumably, if these patents are awarded, Alnylam wouldn’t have to pay Tekmira to develop drugs with particles invented by Alnylam scientists. Yet in its complaint filed this week in the Business Litigation Session of the Massachusetts Superior Court, Tekmira “alleges that Alnylam is claiming … that Alnylam has developed novel siRNA delivery formulations and lipids that can be obtained from Alnylam instead of Tekmira. Tekmira … alleges… that these purported Alnylam formulations and lipids are actually based on, and in whole or in part developed from Tekmira’s technology.”
“It comes down to inventorship on some patent applications filed by Alnylam,” Carr said. “And Tekmira believes that they contributed to it and that they should have at least partial ownership of it.”
Tekmira announced its litigation against Alnylam after the close of the market on Wednesday. At the close of the mark on Thursday, Tekmira’s shares were down about 10 percent to $3.96 and Alnylam’s shares fell almost 3 percent percent to $9.86. Tekmira has a lot at stake in this case, given how much of its future revenue depends on income from its drug-delivery technology through partners like Alnylam. In addition to Tekmira, Alnylam has worked on methods of delivering its gene-silencing treatments with AlCana Technologies, The University of British Columbia, and MIT.
Come back to Xconomy for my colleague Luke Timmerman’s upcoming interview with Alnylam chief executive John Maraganore about this litigation involving Tekmira. Also, here’s Luke’s previous report about this litigation from earlier this week. Tekmira’s complaint can be downloaded from this page on its website.