U.K.'s Silence grabs RNAi delivery deal with Big Pharma

Silence Therapeutics has struck a deal to help a Big Pharma outfit deliver gene-silencing drugs to lung tissues. The deal shows that large drugmakers are pursuing new projects in the troubled RNAi field, which has been shaken by big companies' reducing their investments in the area and the limits of technologies to deliver the treatments to tissues deep in the body. Still, Silence was silent about the name of the "Top 10" pharma company involved in its latest pact.

The U.K.-based company, which revealed the closure of its U.S. operations in June as part of a reorganization, sees this recent pact with the unnamed pharma outfit as progress in its quest for tie-ups with big industry players. The companies aim to do preclinical experiments using Silence's DACC delivery system for brining RNA drugs to lung tissue, specifically the pulmonary vascular endothelium, and then pick lead candidates for further study, according to a release.

While Roche, Merck ($MRK) and Novartis ($NVS) have made high-profile cutbacks to their RNAi research since last year, there continues to be lots of interest in developing technologies to overcome the challenges of delivering the drugs to specific targets in the body. Silence's DACC tech, for example, is going to be studied in the new industry deal for IV delivery to lung tissue and involves embedding nucleic acids known as short interfering RNA in lipid particles. This is the same delivery tech that Silence is now using in its preclinical candidate Atu111, which it's developing to treat acute lung injury.

"We believe that Silence's proprietary DACC delivery system offers the potential to selectively deliver siRNAs and other oligonucleotides to pulmonary vascular endothelium, and we look forward to working closely with our partner on this project," Thomas Christély, Silence's recently named chief executive, said in a statement. "Functional delivery into target cells is one of the greatest challenges facing most nucleic acid therapies and Silence remains committed to the development of its DACC and its other proprietary delivery systems, including AtuPLEX and DBTC, as it seeks to overcome these challenges."

So even as Big Pharma groups tread more silently on the RNAi front than years past, onward marches the crusade for a better vehicle to transport RNA drugs to very specific places in the body, a holy grail of the drug-delivery field.

- here's the release