The RNA goldrush continues: GSK announced on Wednesday a deal with Isis Pharmaceuticals that could net the California biotech up to $1.5 billion in licensing fees and milestone payments.
Thus far, Isis holds over 1600 patents worldwide, and they’ve already partnered with companies like Genzyme, BMS, and Lilly. The deal with GSK is particularly sweet for Isis, since they retain control over the drugs until Phase 2 proof of concept—Isis will receive milestone payments prior to then—and will receive sales royalties for any drug that goes to market. They’ll get $35 million initially.
Isis has been an RNA-interference company from the start, concentrating on antisense drug discovery. The term “antisense” refers to one of the two parallel strands of nucleotides that make up DNA; one “sense” strand, and one “antisense.”
Since only genes on the antisense strand are copied into RNA form and eventually made into proteins, drugs that seek to interfere with the expression of disease-causing genes must bind to the RNA strands that carry copies of that gene, preventing those dangerous proteins from being produced. The company even has promising data from a Phase III trial for mipomersen, an antisense drug they’re developing with Genzyme that’s designed to help patients with a genetic inability to control their cholesterol levels.
GSK said this deal is just the latest step the company’s taking to integrate itself into the RNA arena. Though they recently established a new rare diseases sector to R&D, and company spokesperson Melinda Stubbee said GSK is definitely looking into in-house RNA research, outside partnerships are currently the main source of potential RNA-targeted drugs. The company is no stranger to this arena: Since 2006, they’ve partnered with Merck-Sirna, Centaurus (now Virdante) Pharmaceuticals, and Alnylam-and-Isis-owned Regulus Therapeutics.
“We can see the progress that’s been made,” Stubbee said. “And there’s definitely a resurgence of interest.” They’ll have access to up to six of Isis’ programs. While Stubbee said GSK isn’t sure which programs, exactly, the company will snatch up, a drug designed to combat disease-induced blindness would fit nicely into GSK’s strategy of therapy diversification.