RNA-protein interactions are becoming an increasingly popular target for drug discovery. RiboTargets Ltd., a new player spun out of the U.K.'s Medical Research Council (MRC), plans to use RNA structure determination and combinatorial chemistry to discover small molecules that inhibit RNA-protein interactions. Although the company isn't alone in its field, competitor results have been inconclusive to date.

The company is founded on work done at the MRC by Jonathan Karn, whose lab, in collaboration with Ciba (now Novartis Pharma AG, Basel, Switzerland), used a combinatorial chemistry approach to identify an inhibitor of the HIV Tat protein binding to its Tar RNA substrate. RiboTargets acquired intellectual property rights to the work from the MRC in exchange for a minority equity position. Novartis has since discontinued the HIV project done with Karn's group as part of the restructuring following the merger of Ciba and Sandoz, and is not collaborating with RiboTargets (Cambridge, U.K.).