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Novo Nordisk Buys RNA Biotech in $3.3B Deal

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(A. Kotok)

18 Nov. 2021. Global drug maker Novo Nordisk is acquiring biotechnology company Dicerna Pharmaceuticals Inc. in an all-cash deal valued at $3.3 billion. Under the agreement, Novo Nordisk, based in Bagsvaerd, Denmark, is paying stockholders $38.25 for each Dicerna share, a premium of 80 percent over yesterday’s closing share price of $21.28. So far today, as of 11:00 am ET, Novo Nordisk’s shares on the New York Stock Exchange fell 0.6 percent from their opening price to $114.59.

Dicerna Pharmaceuticals, in Lexington, Mass., is a biotechnology company that develops therapies blocking actions of disease-causing genes using a process known as RNA interference. Ribonucleic acid or RNA is produced by genes with instructions to cells coded from DNA to synthesize proteins. With RNA interference, or RNAi, those instructions are interrupted, preventing production of proteins from disease-causing genes, while limiting effects on other genes, RNA, and protein synthesis.

Dicerna’s technology known as GalXC silences disease-causing genes in the liver. The company’s process adds N-acetylgalactosamine, a sugar molecule, to Dicer enzymes that process double-stranded RNA. Dicerna says these engineered enzymes prevent messenger RNA, the part of RNA molecules with protein synthesis instructions, from reaching the target cells. The company says GalXC treatments are stable and can be delivered as injections under the skin, while targeting cells in the liver. Moreover, says Dicerna, the process is flexible enough to be applied to a range of target genes, addressing a number of disease types including viral infectious diseases, chronic liver disorders, cardiovascular conditions, and some rare diseases.

Extend RNAi through product pipeline

As reported by Science & Enterprise in September 2021, Dicerna is testing an experimental therapy for alcohol use disorder, also known as alcoholism, based on its RNAi technology. The treatment candidate, code-named DCR-AUD, is designed to silence expression of messenger RNA from aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 or ALDH2 genes in the liver. Mutations in ALDH2 genes block production of enzymes that result in unpleasant physiological reactions when exposed to alcohol, causing people with these mutations to stop drinking. The early-stage trial is testing DCR-AUD with healthy volunteers.

Novo Nordisk is a developer of treatments for diabetes and other chronic diseases associated with obesity and metabolic disruptions, founded in 1923. Dicerna began collaborating with Novo Nordisk in November 2019 on applying GalXC to therapies for diseases affecting the liver, such as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some rare diseases. Novo Nordisk says the first treatment candidate produced by the partnership is expected to begin a clinical trial sometime next year.

Novo Nordisk expects the acquisition to extend its application of RNAi throughout the company’s development pipeline. “We build on our successful collaboration,” says Novo Nordisk’s chief scientist Marcus Schindler in a statement, “and by combining Dicerna’s state-of-the-art RNAi drug engine and intracellular delivery with our deep capabilities in disease biology understanding and tissue targeting through peptides and proteins we have the potential to expand our pipeline and deliver life-changing precision medicines for people living with chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and NASH, as well as rare diseases like endocrine disorders and bleeding disorders.”

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