Boehringer bets $2B in biobucks to unlock siRNA targets for MASH treatments

Boehringer Ingelheim is having another crack at using RNA to treat metabolic-associated steatohepatitis (MASH). Six years after inking deals for a pair of prospects, the German drugmaker has committed more than $2 billion in biobucks to enter into a multi-target pact with a Chinese biotech and its Swedish subsidiary.

The latest deal sees Boehringer team up with Suzhou Ribo Life Science and Ribocure Pharmaceuticals, a pair of affiliated biotechs with expertise in small interfering RNA (siRNA). Boehringer plans to combine that expertise with its own experience of treating cardiovascular, renal and metabolic diseases to create treatments for MASH, also now known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

Ribo’s work is underpinned by RIBO-GalSTAR. In a statement, Boehrinher said the platform enables the development of RNAi drugs that target disease-causing genes specifically in liver cells by silencing their mRNAs. The approach could unlock previously inaccessible drug targets.

Boehringer is yet to disclose the targets it will work on with Ribo, or share a detailed breakdown of the financial aspects of the deal. The drugmaker is making an upfront payment of undisclosed size and is on the hook for clinical, regulatory and commercial milestones, plus tiered royalties, that bring the potential value of the deal up above $2 billion.

Boehringer shared news of the Ribo deal six years after penning back-to-back partnerships with Dicerna Pharmaceuticals and MiNA Therapeutics. Those deals covered the use of siRNA and small activating RNA to treat MASH. 

The drugmaker accepted a Dicerna candidate in 2021 but its clinical MASH pipeline is focused on other assets, notably the GLP1/GCGR agonist survodutide and a GLP-1/FGF21 agonist from its Yuhan deal. A phase 2 trial of survodutide, also known as BI 456906, wrapped up late last year.