AstraZeneca gets in on RNA game with MiNA research collaboration
Two months after Novartis spent nearly $10 billion on The Medicines Company’s RNA-based cholesterol drug, AstraZeneca will try to co-develop its own RNA-based metabolic therapy.
The European drugmaker has partnered with MiNA Therapeutics to develop small activating RNA (saRNA) for metabolic diseases. The agreement gives AstraZeneca the right to negotiate a licensing agreement after a series of preclinical studies.
Like AstraZeneca’s recent $1 billion expansion into China, the deal marks another effort by the legacy pharma to keep up with the latest technology in its established therapeutic areas.
The partnership is the third major pharma collaboration for MiNA. The biotech partnered with Japan-based Sosei in a deal that gave MiNA $45 million and Sosei a 25% stake along with an exclusive option to buy the company for $140 million, pending the outcome of a Phase I/II trial on MiNA’s liver cancer drug candidate.
The same year, MiNA signed an up-to €307 million deal with Boehringer Ingelheim for three liver fibrosis targets, including at least one NASH drug. Sosei passed on the buyout option in 2018 amid Phase I trial results that showed little aside from safety and pharmacokinetics, but they maintained their 25% stake in the company.
It’s not clear yet which specific indications AstraZeneca and MiNA will focus on. In an interview with FierceBiotech, MiNA CEO Robert Habib cited inclisiran, the RNA interference (RNAi) cholesterol drug Novartis acquired from The Medicines Company, as an example of RNA’s potential in metabolic diseases.
“That shows exactly the power of an RNA therapy offering superior pharmacology to patients in metabolic disease,” he said.
MiNA’s saRNA tech is distinct, though, from the RNAi therapies offered by Novartis and Alnylam.
MiNA’s published papers describe small activating RNA as “similar to RNA interference” in that they both rely on short strands of RNA and a protein called Argonaute-2. But they do essentially opposite things in the cell. RNAi silences genes; it hijacks a natural cellular process and cuts up RNA that expresses a disease-causing protein. saRNA amplifies; it induces what’s called transcriptional elongation, helping cells create more of a protein that’s being under-expressed.
For example, MiNA’s liver cancer drug is designed to restore the expression of CEBPA, a gene hypothesized to alter the immune system in the tumor microenvironment and make the tumor more susceptible to cancer drugs.