Marina Biotech Shuffles Management Team, as RNAi Falls Out of Favor, Cash Runs Low

[Updated: 8:45 am PT, 9/8/11] Bothell, WA-based Marina Biotech (NASDAQ: MRNA), the developer of RNA interference drugs, has been struggling to hold on during a period when many drug companies have given up on its technology, and today it’s seeing whether a bunch of new blood in the executive suite can help turn things around.

Marina, which had just $5.9 million of cash left on June 30 in its most recent quarterly report, said today that its chief financial officer and chief scientific officer are both stepping aside. CFO Pete Garcia has resigned, and CSO Barry Polisky has traded in that title for a role as “distinguished scientist” and chair of the company’s scientific advisory board.

At the same time, a few new faces are taking on bigger roles at Marina. Richard Ho, the former senior medical director at Foster City, CA-based Entelos, has joined Marina as executive vice president of R&D; Philip Ranker, the former CFO of San Diego-based Suneva Medical will be Marina’s interim finance chief; Alan Dunton has been brought in as consulting chief medical officer; and Michael Templin has been promoted to chief technology officer. CEO Michael French is still the CEO.

[Updated info on salaries] Ho, the new head of R&D, will start his job at an annual base salary of $300,000, get a $90,000 relocation bonus, and get a $30,000 bonus on April 1, 2012 if he successfully integrates and restructures Marina’s research operations, according to a regulatory filing. Polisky, whose role is being reduced to part time, has had his annual base salary reduced to $135,000. Ranker, the new finance chief, will be paid a $275,000 annual base salary, and get $18,000 for relocation.

No official reason was given for all the executive shuffling, but it’s clear that Marina needs to raise some money, and fast. The company had a net loss of $3.6 million in the second quarter, according to its most recent quarterly report, and its slim cash cushion prompted Marina’s auditor to issue a formal opinion raising doubts about the company’s ability to continue as a “going concern.”

RNA interference, a technology in which researchers seek to silence specific disease-related genes in ways that traditional drugs can’t, has excited scientists for years. But no FDA approved drugs have resulted from this line of research, and Big Pharma companies like Roche and Merck have both cast doubts on the field in the past year as they cut back their RNAi efforts.

Marina Biotech shares closed at 22 cents today, down from their 52-week high of $2.91. The company’s market valuation is now about $17.8 million.

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