Dicerna Inks Deal With Ipsen, Second RNAi Partnership of 2010

Xconomy Boston — 

Dicerna Pharmaceuticals kicked off the New Year with a splashy partnership, and it didn’t have to wait long for an encore. The Watertown, MA-based developer of RNA interference drugs is announcing today it has formed a new alliance with Paris-based Ipsen.

Financial terms of the deal aren’t being disclosed, although it ends up being “net-neutral” to Dicerna, says chief business officer Martin Williams. So while this won’t be a windfall of immediate cash for Dicerna, it gives the startup 50-50 ownership rights to drugs that advance through R&D as well as commercialization, Williams says. The two companies will combine Dicerna‘s expertise in RNAi therapeutics with Ipsen’s abilities in using peptides as delivery vehicles inside cells. The initial focus will be on drugs for oncology and endocrinology, Williams says.

“This is a way for us to move into development with a Big Pharma partner while offsetting some of our risk,” Williams says.

Dicerna, avid readers may recall, made some noise on the first business day of 2010 when it announced its first major partnership with Japan-based Kyowa Hakko Kirin. That deal brought in $4 million of upfront cash to support research on a new cancer drug candidate, and established a template for 10 more cancer therapies that could generate $1.4 billion in combined milestone payments if all of those drugs reach all of their development goals. That deal was a conventional out-licensing arrangement, in which Dicerna will do the early research, hand over the candidate to the bigger partner, and collec milestones and royalties if they are successful. The Ipsen deal is different in that it allows Dicerna the right to evenly split the profits, and expenses, of the drug candidates throughout development and commercialization.

Ipsen isn’t one of the big names of the pharma biz, but it has had some success in niche products for oncology and endocrinology. The company surpassed 1 billion Euros in sales in 2009, and now has more than 4,400 employees worldwide, according to its website. Many of the Big Pharma companies already have partnerships in place to explore the potential of RNAi, although this is the first RNAi deal Ipsen has made, Williams says.

“They took a good look around and saw the advantages” of the Dicerna technology, Williams says.

Like other RNAi contenders such as Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Dicerna is seeking to specifically silence disease-related genes in ways that haven’t been possible before with conventional small-molecule drugs or biologically-derived antibodies and other proteins. Dicerna seeks to differentiate itself from the RNAi pack with drug molecules that are a little longer than so-called small interfering RNA molecules, and which interact with a different enzyme. This is supposed to allow for drugs with greater potency, and to provide flexibility with using different modes of delivery into cells.

Dicerna currently has about 25 employees, and doesn’t immediately plan to beef up the staff in the wake of the two deals, Williams says. Back in January, CEO Jim Jenson offered a preview of coming attractions when he said he hoped to nail down a $25 million Series B venture financing. That deal is still expected to close in the first half of this year, Williams says.