Biotech brings hamsters to manufacturing

Cambridge, MA-based biotech Alnylam says that its genetics expertise in drug development also may be useful in biologics manufacturing. In a company update to investors last week, management described how the company's core technology platform--a process of gene silencing in plant and animal cells called RNA interference, or RNAi--provides a manufacturing approach that may create manufacturing business opportunities to supplement the company's development work.

In fact, the company has launched Alnylam Biotherapeutics, an internal effort to use RNAi technology "to transform the $100 billion biologics marketplace," comprising recombinant proteins, monoclonal antibodies, and vaccines.

The key is Chinese hamster ovary, or CHO, cells, which are used in mammalian cell culture. Alnylam says it has developed proprietary lipids for delivering RNA into these cells when they are grown in suspension culture. Studies have demonstrated that silencing certain target genes involved in certain CHO cell pathways yielded a 40 to 60 percent increase in cell viability compared with untreated cells, the company says. Alnylam foresees application of the technique to production processes for existing marketed drugs, drugs in development, and for the emerging biosimilars market.

- here's a summary of the investor event

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