How Big a Deal is Roche and Alnylam’s Big Deal?

The news wires are buzzing with today’s announcement of a deal between Alnylam and Roche that will give Roche nonexclusive access to Alnylam’s technology for developing RNAi-based therapeutics. The deal involves cash, equity, and royalties that could total over $1billion—a figure that some analysts who talked to us and other media outlets said seemed high. Particularly coming on the heels of last week’s news about a similar, albeit smaller, deal between AstraZeneca and Silence Therapeutics, the Alnylam/Roche agreement raises a host of questions. Among them: Are all the zeros attached to these deals merely symptomatic of the hype surrounding RNAi, or vindication of the field’s potential? If this and other equity deals are precursors to potential acquisitions (Novartis already has a 14% stake in Alnylam), is RNAi a mature enough technology to survive within the Big Pharma R&D apparatus? Or has Alnylam found a way to take advantage of the pharmaceutical industry’s pressing need for new technologies while maintaining its independence? In any case, what’s the implication of Novartis and rival Roche now sharing control of almost a fifth of Alnylam’s stock?

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  • mike kharas

    There is a lot of hype about RNAi but it also has the potential to really speed up drug discovery. Instead of making knockouts in animal models you can quickly screen for relevant genes by using shRNA libraries. It is unclear what the medical benefits will be and if the deal is worth it for big pharma. RNAi field is only getting larger and they should stay competitive.

  • Anonymous Xconomist

    It’s interesting that the pharma companies wait and then prefer to overpay significantly for overhyped technology that is (while very important as a research tool) a) still unproven from a therapeutic perspective, b)still can’t be delivered systemically, and c) has a complex IP landscape. Furthermore, how can a $300M+ upfront pricetag be justified for a non-exclusive license to technology that multiple companies claim to own? Excellent selling skills on the part of John Maraganore and Alnylam and great for early stage technology but really makes one question what these pharma companies are thinking.