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12:00 AM
 | 
Nov 06, 2006
 |  BioCentury  |  Strategy

Sirna or later

Merck & Co. Inc.'s willingness to pay $1.1 billion to acquire Sirna Therapeutics Inc., one of only a few companies to have reached the clinic with a short interfering RNA (siRNA) candidate, provides a real contrast for the choices companies face in deciding how to deal with largely unproven technology that could be transformational.

In its takeout deal, announced last week, MRK is following a different path than that taken last year by Novartis AG, which paid less than $70 million in upfront cash and equity in exchange for first dibs on any unpartnered RNAi programs emerging from Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Coupled to this year's award of the Nobel Prize to Craig Mello of the University of Massachusetts and Andrew Fire of Stanford University, the discoverers of RNA interference, the deals also highlight the speed of development since the idea of using double-stranded RNA to silence gene expression was first published in Nature in 1998 and declared the "Breakthrough of the Year" for 2002 by the journal Science (see "RNAi Timeline," A10).

Alnylam (ALNY, Cambridge, Mass.) and Sirna (RNAI, San Francisco, Calif.), previously known as Ribozyme Pharmaceuticals Inc., top a short list of RNAi players that have reached the clinical threshold. Sirna's Sirna-027 entered the clinic to treat wet age-related macular degeneration in late 2004 and ALNY's ALN-RSV01 began Phase I testing for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection 12 months later.

The third company in the clinic is Acuity Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Philadelphia, Penn.), which has the most advanced siRNA. Acuity's bevasiranib, which...

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