ASCO confab gives Alnylam, RNAi a shot to shine

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals ($ALNY) appears to looking at the annual ASCO confab--the industry's biggest cancer drug meeting--as a key stage to boost the appeal of its gene-silencing or RNAi technology. The company's move comes after a year that saw some Big Pharma companies scale back research in the field.

The Cambridge, MA-based biotech plans to showcase data from its early-stage liver cancer drug, ALN-VSP02, at the meeting next month. And Alnylam CEO John Maraganore tells Xconomy his company is in the market for a partner to fuel further development of the drug, which aims to knock down two genes that drive the growth of cancer cells.

Even though ALN-VSP02 is an early-stage candidate--normally not a showstopper at ASCO--the drug is worth watching because it's the most advanced RNAi treatment intended to circulate in the bloodstream. Delivering the gene-silencing drugs to tissues deep in the body has been a huge challenge for the RNAi field, which has yet to yield an FDA-approved medicine. Last year, Roche and Novartis scaled back their research of RNAi, in what Wall Street viewed as a blow to the field and developers like Alnylam.

Last year, Alnylam had to cut workers who had worked on its partnership with Novartis, which is relying on internal researchers to advance its RNAi work. For Alnylam, a new Big Pharma deal could be the right recipe to buoy its liver cancer program--and regain some of the RNAi field's gloss that was lost last year.

"ASCO will be important for that (liver cancer) program's partnership potential," Maraganore told Xconomy. "For Alnylam it's also important, because in a sense, it's a bell-ringing for this drug class."

- read the report from Xconomy