Alnylam Cuts One-Third of Workforce, To Save Cash for RNAi Clinical Plans

Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals is getting rid of about one-third of its workforce, as it looks to save cash for clinical trials that it hopes will prove the value of its RNA interference drug technology.

Alnylam (NASDAQ: ALNY) said today it’s cutting 33 percent of its staff, as it looks to concentrate its cash reserves on what it believes are its “highest value opportunities” in its pipeline of experimental RNAi drugs. The company didn’t disclose absolute numbers, but it said in its most recent quarterly report that it had 171 employees at the end of September, so if that number is still current, then 56 people are being let go, and about 115 people will remain at the company.

Alnylam has faced deep skepticism among investors in its RNAi platform, after scientists have struggled to effectively deliver the treatments into cells, and Big Pharma companies like Roche, Novartis, and Merck all scaled back their efforts in the field. But Alnylam, still relatively flush with cash from partnerships it struck years ago, has chosen to forge on by internally developing its own RNAi drugs for a group of liver diseases, where delivery is less of a challenge.

“As we effect our ongoing transformation from a platform company to a product company, now is the time to focus our near-term efforts and resources on what we believe to be our highest value opportunities,” said Alnylam CEO John Maraganore, in a statement.

Alnylam said the cuts are expected to save the company $20 million in cash this year. It ended 2011 with about $260 million of cash and investments in the bank, and said it plans next month to disclose its financial forecast for the coming year.

Alnylam has recently released some preliminary data from clinical trials of a couple RNAi programs that it says have emboldened it to push ahead and become a drug developer on its own. The first is for a rare liver disease called TTR amyloidosis, and the second is for high cholesterol, through hitting a biological target known as PCSK9. The company said today that as part of its restructuring, the TTR program, and another for hemophilia, are now its top two clinical priorities.

This isn’t the first time Alnylam has made layoffs. The company cut 25 to 30 percent of its workforce in September 2010 after Novartis ended a collaboration with the company.

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