Lilly, MiNA ink broad deal to upregulate proteins using RNA

Eli Lilly has struck a deal with MiNA Therapeutics to develop small activating RNA (saRNA) candidates against up to five targets across its key therapeutic focus areas. Lilly is paying $25 million upfront and committing to milestones of up to $245 million per target to work with MiNA. 

London-based MiNA has previously landed deals with Boehringer Ingelheim and AstraZeneca on the strength of its saRNA platform. The molecules, which are structurally similar to siRNAs, trigger the production of a target protein in human cells through the recruitment of endogenous transcription complexes and generation of new mRNA.

Lilly is already active in the wider RNA space, having entered into deals with Avidity Biosciences, Dicerna Pharmaceuticals and Evox Therapeutics. By adding MiNA’s saRNAs to its arsenal, Lilly has set itself up to expand the therapeutic possibilities that can be realized using RNA. 

“Small activating RNAs are a promising new technology, which will expand the breadth of Lilly’s RNA therapeutics platform and the targets we can pursue. We are excited about the potential of combining MiNA’s leading saRNA platform and our expertise in new modalities to accelerate development of RNA-based medicines in areas of high unmet medical need,” Andrew Adams, VP for new therapeutic modalities at Lilly, said in a statement.

As the modality modulates targets at the gene level, it potentially enables the pursuit of pathways that are undruggable by conventional medicines. Restoring levels of proteins that are downregulated could improve outcomes. 

Lilly has secured broader access to MiNA’s technology than other companies. Boehringer entered into a deal to collaborate with MiNA on nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and other fibrotic liver diseases in 2017. AstraZeneca’s 2020 deal covers metabolic diseases, and the agreement Servier disclosed this year is focused on neurological disorders.

MiNA and Lilly are yet to share details of the specific targets and indications they will pursue, but the deal supports work across the Big Pharma’s key therapeutic focus areas. Lilly’s current pipeline spans cancer, diabetes, immunology, neurodegeneration and pain.

Internally, MiNA has the most data on the application of its saRNAs in oncology, although it also has discovery-stage programs focused on metabolic and genetic targets. MiNA’s lead asset is MTL-CEBPA, which is designed to reduce immunosuppression by raising levels of the C/EBP-⍺ master regulator of myeloid cell differentiation. MiNA is testing MTL-CEBPA in combination with Keytruda and Nexavar.