Alnylam scraps COVID-19 antiviral citing effective vaccines, alternative treatments

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Vir Biotechnology are ditching their COVID-19 antiviral as the Delta variant picks up steam throughout the world, causing major cities to reinstate mask mandates.

The scrap was described as a "portfolio prioritization" and revealed as part of the company's second-quarter financial results. Alnylam claimed the availability of "highly effective vaccines and alternative treatment options" was the reason behind the axing. Yet, the access to and availability of COVID-19 vaccines is vastly different from region to region, and the number of approved treatments is relatively low. 

The three-product pharma and its partner Vir had said in May 2020 that the inhaled RNAi antiviral would be in human trials by the end of 2020. Early on in the pandemic, in March 2020, the partners said Alnylam had synthesized 350 siRNAs targeting SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19.

RELATED: Alnylam, Vir plan year-end trial of new RNAi COVID-19 antiviral

Vir will likely be less impacted by the slashing, as it has a late-stage COVID-19 antiviral in the works with GlaxoSmithKline. In late June, Vir and GSK said they would seek full approval for their antibody by the end of 2021 after a phase 3 study found that the treatment, sotrovimab, reduced deaths by 79% in adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 at high risk of the disease becoming severe.

Alnylam executives did not address the antiviral drop on Tuesday's earnings call, aside from reading the single sentence statement from the press release.

By dropping ALN-COV, Alnylam is setting its sights on the rest of its portfolio as it looks to become one of the top five biotechs by market capitalization by 2025, said John Maraganore, Ph.D., Alnylam CEO, during the earnings call. The company's ambitious 2025 goal is to have more than half a million patients worldwide on its RNAi therapeutics, have six or more marketed products in rare and prevalent diseases and to reach profitability. 

RELATED: Alnylam's next-gen ATTR amyloidosis drug hits goals in phase 3, teeing up approval filing

Behind Onpattro, Givlaari and Oxlumo, the company hopes Vutrisiran will be its fourth product to hit the market. The FDA accepted Alnylam's new drug application for the treatment of polyneuropathy of hereditary ATTR amyloidosis and set a decision date for April 14, 2022. 

By 2025, Alnylam also expects to have more than 20 clinical programs, with 10 or more in late stages and more than four investigation new drug applications per year. Alnylam beefed up its pipeline capabilities last week with a major licensing deal with PeptiDream. Alnylam will pay an undisclosed upfront payment and up to $2.2 billion in biobucks to develop peptide-small interfering RNA conjugates to deliver therapies to tissues outside the liver. 

RELATED: Another day, another billion-dollar deal for PeptiDream, this time with Alnylam

As part of the earnings result released, Alnylam said its global net product revenues for its lead commercial product, Onpattro, were $114 million for the quarter, or 12% growth compared to the first quarter. Total net product revenues were $161 million. 

Asked about any concerns regarding the Delta variant of COVID-19 impacting performance for the second half of the year, Chief Commercial Officer Tolga Tanguler said Alnylam "does not anticipate a significant impact given the success of the vaccines." 

The biotech also elevated Michael W. Bonney to executive board chair. The former Cubist Pharmaceuticals CEO joined the board in 2014, and the new position is expected to be a "temporary expansion" as he works on boosting Alnylam's ethics and compliance, the company said. Maragarone described it as a "governance role" on the earnings call.