Alnylam and Glaxo Partner on RNAi for Vaccine Production

11/1/11Follow @arleneweintraub

Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) announced today that it has formed a collaboration deal with GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) centered around an RNAi technology Alnylam developed to enhance vaccine production. The technology, called VaxiRNA, uses molecules called “small interfering RNAs” (siRNAs) to silent specific genes that limit the efficient growth of viruses in vaccine manufacturing systems.

The financial worth of the partnership was not disclosed, though the announcement does say that under the terms of the agreement, “GSK will provide funding and certain milestone payments to Alnylam.” If a commercial product emerges from the partnership, Alnylam will receive payments on unit product sales.

The agreement comes just a year after a string of partnership disappointments for Alnylam. Last September, Novartis ended a partnership with Alnylam, and two months later, Roche pulled out of RNAi all together, which also involved ending a program with Alnylam. But Alnylam CEO John Maraganore never lost his enthusiasm for the technology. In a tweetchat with Xconomy on October 5, he was asked why he thought so many people had soured on RNAi—a technology that had long been considered a promising method for turning off disease-causing genes but that has yet to yield a marketable product. His response: “people/companies are waiting for clinical data, which is what we are focused on.”

Alnylam announced the partnership a few hours in advance of its third-quarter financial results. Wall Street analysts, on average, are expecting the company to report a loss of 35 cents per share on sales of $20.5 million. No doubt analysts who listen in on the earnings call, which is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. today, will be eager to hear management’s take on what the Glaxo partnership means for the future of the company—and for RNAi as a whole.

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