Drugmakers place big bets on the emerging science of microRNA.
By Arlene Weintraub
San Diego startup Regulus, founded in 2007, has quietly been working on a new way to target RNA for drug development. The company has been studying a subset of RNA molecules called microRNAs, or miRNAs. First discovered in the 1990s, misbehaving miRNAs have been linked to several diseases, including cancer and heart failure. Drug developers hope these molecules will prove to be particularly effective drug targets because manipulating just one seems to suppress several disease-linked proteins–whereas most biotech drugs only target individual proteins.
Regulus is co-owned by Alnylam and Isis, leaders in RNA-based drug development. While it is just one of a handful of startups developing miRNA therapeutics, it has attracted significant attention from big pharmaceutical companies. Last month, French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis announced a research alliance with the company. Sanofi has pledged up to $750 million in payments, including $35 million up front to Regulus–an unusually large investment in such early-stage science. Sanofi and Regulus will work together to target fibrosis, an excessive buildup of hard collagen that can wreak havoc on the heart, kidneys, and other organs. Regulus already has a multimillion-dollar alliance with GlaxoSmithKline to codevelop drugs to treat immune diseases and a hepatitis C treatment. (read more… )