Tweetchat on RNA Interference Upstages iPhone (Not Really, but It Was Still Fun)

Xconomy National — 

Who says you can’t be smart, witty, or say anything of substance in 140 characters or less? Alnylam Pharmaceuticals CEO John Maraganore had a zinger ready yesterday as Apple’s dog-and-pony show was happening during the first Xconomy “Tweetchat,” on the latest ups and downs in RNA interference.

“RNAi vs iPhone, RNAi better for patients” is what Maraganore wrote under the @alnylam Twitter account.

Touche. That was one of the fun comments that were going back and forth in a 30-minute Q&A session that I moderated on Twitter with Maraganore. This event seemed to be quite popular. We had 26 people who either threw some questions at Maraganore during the 30-minute period, or signaled they were following the conversation by notifying their networks of followers about the searchable hash tag #RNAichat. Here’s who joined the conversation, with a little on their background according to their self-described bios on Twitter.

@adamfeuerstein (Adam Feuerstein, Sr. columnist for the TheStreet)

@biotechcfo (Daniel Davis, director life sciences & technology at AMS)

@Chris_Evelo (Chris Evelo, Head of the Department of Bioinformatics – BiGCaT at Maastricht University in the Netherlands)

@JohnCFierce (John Carroll, editor in chief, FierceBiotech)

@bio1x1 (Bio 1×1 Partnering, based in Washington DC)

@corytromblee (Cory Tromblee, life sciences communications pro)

@JohnJSeng (John Seng, founder and president of Spectrum)

@tweetingbiotech (Jennifer Conrad, Sr. account executive at MacDougall Biomedical Communications)

@scientre (Laura Strong, president of Madison, WI-based Quintessence Biosciences)

@illuminatethis (Amber Harloff)

@outlinescience (Mawethu Bilibana, Blogger, Professional student (PhD Chemistry) at UWC and NGO non-executive in Cape Town, South Africa)

@sjohnson7808 (Steve Johnson)

@claytoncomm (Cynthia Clayton, communications, Alnylam)

@biotechben (Benjamin Navon, Biotech, life sciences, and healthcare PR pro)

@bioduediligence (PhD scientist and biotechnology stock investor)

@IBT_Bioservices (IBT Bioservices is a collaborative research organization offering R&D services to identify vaccines and therapeutics with anti-infective activity)

@roseanneseguin (Montreal, Quebec)

@bradloncar (Private investor)

@Michael_Gilman (Scientist and entrepreneur. Founder/CEO of @Stromedix)

@alalejandro (Adriana Alejandro, scientific consultant)

@LifeSciVC (Bruce Booth, early stage VC, recovering scientist)

@brownerM9 (Michelle Browner, CEO of Enlight Biosciences)

@microryza (Fun Guy)

@MelissaLerch (Melissa Lerch, Scientist passionate about global health, infectious disease, science communication, travel, and life)

@Robert_Overell (Robert Overell, CEO of PhaseRx)

@kevinccc (Kevin Colwill, individual biotech investor)

There were lots of good questions, and amazingly, Maraganore was able to keep up and answer all of them as far as I could tell. I personally fired away with these questions:

1. John, why do you think so many people have soured on RNAi? Roche, Merck are a couple big cos that have walked away. Maraganore’s response: “people/companies are waiting for clinical data, which is what we are focused on.”

2. Skeptics seem really dug in against RNAi. What clinical data at @alnylam could change minds? The reply: “silencing of human genes involved in disease is a good 1st step.”

3. Alnylam just moved a cholesterol-lowering PCSK9 drug into clinic. That will cost $. Competitive space. Why do? Answer: “PCSK9 is hottest target in mol. medicine, competition 2b expected; our mechanism only 1 to phenocopy human genetics.”

What really got me even more excited about this event was how this got more people involved. The Tweetchat makes this more like a press conference or an investor breakout session, where anyone with a question can chime in. Here were a few examples, and answers.

From @scientre “Will clinical POC need to be in disease where delivery very general (beyond eye, liver) before skeptics get on board?” Maraganore’s answer: “re: clinical POC; liver is huge win for field & creates opportunities 4 lots of meaningful drugs.”

From @sjohnson7808 “Reasons/causes of liposome induced inflammation been figured out?” The response from Alnylam’s CEO: “re: liposome inflammation; high doses >1mg/kg are pro-inflammatory. our new LNPs silence genes at <0.05mg/kg”

From @BiotechBen “Obviously it takes time bringing a new class of therapies to market, but what do you say to investors who have lost patience?” Maraganore’s response: “re: investors; market has tendency 2 initially undervalue promising new techs, we think clin data could make impact.”

From @IBT_Bioservices “@ldtimmerman @alnylam Curious to know his predictions on RNAi to treat/prevent viral infections. Two minutes later, Maraganore said “re: RNAi viral infections; we are doing Ph 2b study in RSV infection & @RegulusRx doing work on HCV w. miR-122.”

Nothing that Maraganore said was really earth-shaking news. But I got a number of positive comments from folks whose only complaint was that it was too short at just 30 minutes. Maraganore was a good sport about it. Afterward, he said in an e-mail, “It was fun for sure!”

If you have other suggestions of interesting life sciences topics and speakers that we might want to put together for future Tweetchats, just send me a note via e-mail. I’ve already gotten one pretty good tip today from @PearlF (Pearl Freier, Founder of Cambridge BioPartners). See you around in the Twittersphere.

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