Eyeing tissue targeting, AstraZeneca consortium gets cash for nucleic acid delivery work

A consortium featuring AstraZeneca has secured funding to advance the delivery of nucleic acids, teeing the collaborators up to create new methods for getting oligonucleotide therapies to target tissues.

Nucleic-acid-based therapies have begun to prove themselves in recent years as products such as mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 and RNAi and antisense oligonucleotide rare disease treatments have posted positive clinical data and come to market. However, there remains a need for technologies capable of getting the molecules to specific organs and tissues including the brain, heart and muscle.

The 8 million pound sterling ($10 million) funding award is part of a push to address the delivery challenges. Bodies in the U.K. awarded the money to a consortium led by Matthew Wood, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford, via the Nucleic Acid Therapies Delivery Research Challenge.

Wood is leading a consortium that brings together academic and industry experts. On the industry side, AstraZeneca is joined by Silence Therapeutics and Ionis Pharmaceuticals. The drug developers will work with scientists at the University of Oxford and other academic centers including the University of Cambridge, University College London and the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School on the problem.

The funding will enable Wood to build on work he has been doing for more than a decade, in which time the professor has published papers on using siRNA-loaded exosomes and antibody-oligonucleotide conjugates to get nucleic acid payloads to targets in the central nervous system. Wood discussed the aims of the new project in a statement.

“This major award gives an outstanding international consortium the opportunity to focus on key scientific challenges in safely and specifically delivering nucleic acid therapeutics to diseased tissues. Our vision is to accelerate development of this field and bring about a transformation in the use of nucleic acid drugs to benefit patients affected by a wide range of rare and common diseases,” Wood said.