The pursuit to develop particles to deliver RNA-interference drugs has turned ugly. Tekmira Pharmaceuticals ($TKMR) said March 16 it had filed litigation against long-time partner Alnylam Pharmaceuticals ($ALNY) concerning lipid nanoparticle technology for delivering RNAi treatments.
Vancouver, BC-based Tekmira alleges Alnylam, of Cambridge, MA, "exploited its confidential relationship as a collaborator with Tekmira to engage in inappropriate and harmful conduct concerning Tekmira's proprietary lipid nanoparticle (LNP) siRNA delivery technology," according to a company statement. It also contends Alnylam incorporated its confidential information into patent filings and claimed ownership in direct violation of a licensing agreement between the two companies. Tekmira, which filed its suit in the Business Litigation Session of the Massachusetts Superior Court, is seeking damages from Alnylam that could exceed $1 billion.
"It comes down to inventorship on some patent applications filed by Alnylam. And Tekmira believes that they contributed to it and that they should have at least partial ownership of it," Alan Carr, an analyst for Needham & Company, told me for a report in Xconomy. Alnylam, which also has worked with AlCana Technologies, The University of British Columbia and MIT to develop new lipid nanoparticles, insists in a March 17 response that the litigation is without merit and it will fully defend itself.
The Tekmira-Alnylam fight highlights the current research efforts to overcome the challenge of delivering RNAi drugs--which are supposed to silence certain disease-related genes--into cells before they are damaged in the bloodstream or cause certain immune reactions. Alnylam, which says it has provided more than $45 million in funding to Tekmira since 2007, uses the Canadian company's particles to carry its RNAi drugs for liver cancer and TTR-myeloid amyloidosis through the bloodstream and into cells.