Silence Therapeutics inks deal to deliver 'master switches' to shut down cancer

Silence Therapeutics has found a new partner in need of help reaching specific cells with RNA-targeted drugs. Mirna Therapeutics has signed on to use two of U.K.-based Silence's lipid delivery systems for its microRNA drugs against cancer, joining a mix of upstarts and Big Pharma outfits that have tapped Silence's tech to overcome drug-delivery hurdles.

Austin, TX-based Mirna plans to send some proprietary microRNAs to Silence, which will formulate the molecules with its AtuPLEX and DBTC delivery systems. While Silence has worked with one previous microRNA drug developer, Mirna is the first partner to gain access to the British firm's DBTC system, which uses lipid formulations to carry nucleic acid-based treatments to cells of interest in the liver, according to Silence. The AtuPLEX system uses lipids to transport RNA-targeted drugs to cells lining the inside surfaces of blood vessels.

Like small interfering RNAs (siRNA), microRNAs are nucleic acids that aim to home in on messenger RNAs involved in the expression of disease-related genes. Mirna calls miRNAs master switches for gene expression. And both miRNAs and siRNAs face similar hurdles to get to specific cells in the body where they can shut down disease genes. Mirna plans to conduct preclinical experiments with the microRNAs formulated with Silence's delivery tech, aiming to select candidates for further testing. The companies didn't disclose financial details of their agreement.

"We are very interested to be working with Silence Therapeutics on the delivery of our miRNAs, as Silence has clearly been shown to be at the forefront of efficient and safe delivery of siRNAs and miRNAs, a process critical to the ultimate success of what promises to be a new and exciting class of targeted cancer therapeutics," stated Mirna CEO Paul Lammers, adding that delivery systems have a direct impact on how well the treatments perform in the clinic.

Silence was in the news last month for securing a delivery pact with an unnamed major pharma company. It was a nugget of good news for an embattled RNA-interference field, which has taken some heat from scientists and investors because of challenges in delivering the drugs to target cells. And Big Pharma outfits such as Novartis ($NVS), Merck ($MRK) and Roche have made high-profile cutbacks in RNAi research in recent years.

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