Alnylam, Cubist Will Cooperate on RNAi Drug for Lung Infections

Xconomy Boston — 

Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Lexington, MA-based Cubist Pharmaceuticals announced a major deal today in which Cubist will pay Alnylam $20 million immediately, and up to $82.5 million in milestone-based payments down the road, in return for the right to market RNAi-based drugs that Alnylam is developing to treat the deadly respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

As we reported back in February 2008, Alnylam (NASDAQ: ALNY) obtained encouraging results from a Phase II clinical study of its drug ALN-RSV01, which uses a tactic called RNA interference (RNAi) to shut down a gene that’s hijacked in infected lung cells to let RSV replicate. When the drug was administered intranasally to otherwise healthy patients, researchers detected a 40 percent reduction in RSV infection rates. The company is now studying the drug’s efficacy in adult lung-transplant patients.

Alnylam has already inked a similar deal with Kyowa Hakko Kirin Co. of Japan to market ALN-RSV01 in Asia, assuming that it proceeds to the level of regulatory approval. The deal announced today gives Cubist (NASDAQ: CBST) the right to distribute Alnylam’s RSV drugs everywhere else, with Cubist and Alnylam splitting the development costs and profits 50/50 in North America and arranging a milestone- and royalty-based license for the rest of the world.

Cubist specializes in the development of drugs for infectious diseases, especially drugs delivered in hospital settings. Its lead product is daptomycin (Cubicin), an injectable drug used to treat skin infections caused by bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, including the methicillin-resistant strain known as MRSA.

Alnylam CEO John Maraganore said in a statement that Cubist is “a like-minded organization” that can bring “additional critical mass” to the development of ALN-RSV01 and/or second-generation RNAi therapies for RSV. Maraganore also said that the Cubist payments will give Alnylam “additional financial flexibility” to invest in RNAi-based therapies for conditions other than RSV.

“This is a good day for Alnylam,” said Simos Simeonidis, a senior biotechnology analyst at research firm Rodman & Renshaw, in a press statement on the deal today. “They get solid market rate and a specialist partner for a compound they had guided they will partner. In addition, they show they are continuing to attract interest from pharma and biotechs and are able to execute deals with favorable terms.”