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Roche Acquiring RNA Medications Biotech Company

RNA illustration

RNA illustration (Research.gov)

5 August 2014. The pharmaceutical company Roche is acquiring Santaris Pharma, a biotechnology company developing therapies targeting ribonucleic acid or RNA that performs vital genetic functions. Roche is expected to pay as much as $450 million for Santaris, based in Hørsholm, Denmark.

Santaris designs therapies focusing on RNA, a fundamental molecular building block in the genetic system that controls chemical activities in cells. The company says its technology, called Locked Nucleic Acid, has advantages over earlier attempts to address RNA, including more potency, affinity for wider variety of targets, and smaller molecular size making it better able to interact with target cells.

Santaris’s lead candidate is miravirsen, an inhibitor of microRNA-122 controlling the expression of a gene that helps hepatitis C virus replicate and accumulate in the liver. Because miravirsen targets an enabler of the virus rather than the virus itself, it is believed to be less susceptible to resistance from mutations in the virus. The company says in lab tests miravirsen was shown to be active against all six types of hepatitis C virus.

Miravirsen is being tested in an intermediate-stage clinical trial against current drugs considered the standard of care for treating hepatitis C. The 20 patients enrolled in the trial are infected with genotype 1 of the hepatitis C virus, considered the most common, yet most difficult to treat. Current drugs, says the company, are effective in only about half of hepatitis C cases and associated with adverse side effects among some patients.

Under the acquisition, Roche is paying Santaris $250 million at signing, with another $200 million to be paid upon completion of specified milestones. Roche is expected to continue Santaris’s operations in Denmark under the name Roche Innovation Center Copenhagen.

Santaris and Roche were already collaborating on the discovery of RNA medications, in a deal announced in January. In that agreement, the companies would apply Santaris’s technology to several unspecified disease areas, in return for $10 million up front, and up to $138 million per product in subsequent milestones.

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Hat tip: FirstWord Pharma

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