- Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Dicerna Pharmaceuticals had been racing each other to develop treatments for a genetic disease that can cause lung and liver damage. That was until Monday, when the biotechs announced plans to join forces.
- Under a proposed collaboration, Dicerna would lead clinical development for one or both of the companies' drugs, which are in the early to middle stages of human testing. Dicerna would also cover the associated costs. After late-stage testing wraps up, Alnylam would decide whether it wants non-U.S. rights to whichever drug Dicerna chose to advance to market.
- The collaboration could create stiffer competition for Vertex, Intellia Therapeutics and Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals — three other companies working on treatments for the genetic disorder, which is known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency or A1AT. Arrowhead may be particularly affected, since it uses a drugmaking technology similar to Alnylam's and Dicerna's.
It wasn't long ago that Alnylam and Dicerna were adversaries. The two biotechs, which built their businesses around a drugmaking technology called RNA interference, or RNAi, had been locked in a legal battle over trade secrets that didn't resolve until spring 2018.
Monday's announcement, though, suggests they're on better terms. Not only are the companies collaborating on A1AT drugs, but they also unveiled a separate cross-licensing deal that gives each of them access to some of the other's intellectual property. The intellectual property pertains to Alnylam's lumasiran and Dicerna's nedosiran, two experimental treatments for a rare metabolic disorder called primary hyperoxaluria.
"We are excited to bring our two leading RNAi therapeutics companies together," Alnylam CEO John Maraganore said in a statement.
Douglas Fambrough, CEO of Dicerna, added that the two new agreements between his company and Alnylam "represent biopharma collaboration at its best, unifying the strengths of two leaders in RNAi innovation to rally behind the common goal of delivering much-needed new therapies to patients with rare diseases."
Alnylam was formed in 2002, went public in 2004, and made history as the first company to bring an RNAi therapy — Onpattro, approved in 2018 — to market. Alnylam has since won Food and Drug Administration approval of a second RNAi therapy, and has two more medicines in late-stage testing.
Dicerna, meanwhile, is a younger, less proven company. It priced its initial public offering in 2014 and began its first registrational trial, of nedosiran, last year. Dicerna does have partnerships in place with Roche, Eli Lilly and several other well-known drugmakers, however.
Combining those track records may pose a competitive challenge to other drugmakers that are focusing on RNAi or are developing treatments for A1AT or primary hyperoxaluria. Arrowhead fits both criteria, as one of its most advanced experimental drugs is an RNAi therapy for the liver disease associated with A1AT.
Arrowhead investors, however, don't seem too worried by the Alnylam-Dicerna pairing. Arrowhead's share price was up 7.5% late Monday morning, to trade a little over $28 per share. Meanwhile, Alnylam and Dicerna shares were up 4.7% and 6.2%, respectively.
"We believe the effort of both companies to concentrate development efforts onto one candidate is reflective of the increasingly cluttered A1AT competitive landscape, and is more likely to produce an asset with a profile that will be competitive against development candidates from [Arrowhead, Vertex and Intellia]," wrote SVB Leerink analyst Mani Foroohar in an April 6 note to clients.