The UK biotech MiNA Therapeutics has launched a collaboration with AstraZeneca to develop small activating RNA drugs, which could treat metabolic diseases using targets unreachable by current medications.
According to the agreement, the two partners will carry out preclinical research with the aim of generating candidate drugs based on small activating RNA, or saRNA — small molecules of RNA that selectively activate a gene in a patient’s cells. The partners will explore the use of saRNA in a range of metabolic conditions, but according to Robert Habib, CEO of MiNA Therapeutics, it’s too early to disclose the specific diseases they will target.
Once the preclinical studies are complete, AstraZeneca has the option to license saRNA drugs from MiNA Therapeutics that target an undisclosed gene.
“In metabolic diseases, we see a dramatic need for completely novel approaches and our collaboration with AstraZeneca combines their disease expertise with our specific technological know-how,” Habib told me.
The use of RNA as a therapy, including saRNA and RNA interference, also known as RNAi, has a number of advantages over conventional disease treatments. One key example is that RNA therapy could control the expression of so-called ‘undruggable proteins’. These proteins, making up 80% of proteins in the cell, can’t be blocked or activated by small molecule drugs because they lack the required structure to interact with the drug. Therefore, RNA drugs could produce a lot more therapeutic options for patients with metabolic diseases.
In the last few years, big pharma such as AstraZeneca has begun to show interest in the field of RNA. This was helped by the first RNAi drug therapy, patisiran, gaining EU and US market approval in 2018. One example of big pharma entering the field is Novartis, which recently announced that it would spend €8.8B to acquire The Medicines Company along with its experimental RNAi drug inclisiran for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.
In contrast to RNAi, no saRNA therapies have been approved yet. MiNA Therapeutics is one of the most advanced companies in the field, with its lead candidate in a phase Ib trial for the treatment of liver cancer.
“Over the next five years, we will see patients with chronic diseases benefiting from RNA therapies; with inclisiran leading the pack,” Habib said. “These successes will drive yet further engagement from big pharma with leading companies in RNA drug discovery.”
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