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Nastech changes name, focuses on gene-silencing
TRADING SYMBOL: MRNA as of June 12, 2008
NEW YORK (AP) - After several months of mulling over a plan to spin off its
RNAi gene-silencing therapy business, Nastech Pharmaceutical Inc. said Tuesday
it will instead shift the entire company's focus to this growing field of
Nastech, which has focused until now on making nasal-delivered drugs, will
change its name to mdRNA Inc. to signal its focus on RNAi technology. The goal
of RNAi, a young technology discovered by subsequent 2006 Nobel Prize winners
Craig Mello and Andrew Fire, is to shut down the protein at the root of a
disease or condition, in effect "silencing" the gene.
Researchers and Wall Street both see RNAi's potential in the development of
cutting-edge treatments for a range of conditions, including cancer.
"What the company has recognized, or decided, is that RNAi represents very
significant potential," said the company's incoming Chief Executive J. Michael
French, in an interview with The Associated Press. He believes Nastech can be a
critical player in the growing field.
French comes to the restructured Nastech from Sirna Therapeutics, an RNAi
company that made a splash on Wall Street when it garnered $1.1 billion in a
buyout deal from Merck & Co in 2007.
Dr. Steven C. Quay, Nastech's current CEO, will become chief scientific
officer of mdRNA and chairman of the new company's scientific advisory board
when the change takes place June 23. He will remain chairman of the board of
The company, which has more than 260 patents in the field of RNAi addressing
144 gene sequences, will focus on current preclinical RNAi programs for flu and
rheumatoid arthritis. As mdRNA, it will try to either license or sell its
midstage intranasal delivery assets, which are focused on treating obesity,
diabetes and osteoporosis.
The transformed company will have about 80 employees. It started slashing
jobs from a level of 230 workers late last year in an effort to contain costs.
Analysts had maintained a skeptical stance on the company in the wake of
canceled nasal delivery program parterships, starting in 2006 when Merck pulled
out of a partnership over a developing obesity treatment. In November 2007,
Procter & Gamble ended its relationship with the company on a nasally delivered
osteoporosis drug -- sending shares into a downward spiral from which they
haven't yet recovered.
The stock, which closed unchanged in Tuesday trading at $1.19, is down 93
percent from its 52-week high of $17.05 reached in August.
Nastech is now jumping into a widening pool of competitors in the RNAi field
that include Merck with its Sirna unit, and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, which
recently signed a lucrative development deal for RNAi technology with Japan's
Takeda. Alynlam also has a deal with Roche and a joint venture called Regulus
Therapeutics with Isis Pharmaceuticals.
Another player in the field, CytRx Corp., has its own RNAi subsidiary called
RXi Pharmaceuticals Corp.
French said he's confident that new therapies based on RNAi technology could
come sooner than most people think, judging by industry interest and swift
progression of the technology. He referred to researchers Mello and Fire, whose
shared Nobel Prize for medicine in 2006 came just eight years after their
"What's significant was the time between discovery and reward," French said.
"That normally takes decades because it takes time to understand the magnitude
of the discovery, but it was so rapidly and quickly embraced that it is a
testament to how important this biological process is."
July 22, 2008 updated---
may my longtime friend, Ken Gammage, continue to rest in peace!
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