Novo Nordisk bets big on RNAi, paying $3.3B to buy Dicerna 

Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen has landed the major takeover he has targeted since taking over as CEO of Novo Nordisk. Having missed out on Ablynx to Sanofi in 2018, Novo Nordisk has agreed to a $3.3 billion buyout of its RNAi partner Dicerna Pharmaceuticals as part of its search for new growth drivers.

Novo Nordisk has snagged its target with an offer of $38.25 per share. That is an 80% premium over the closing price of Dicerna but still slightly down on the highs the biotech hit over the summer. The delivery of data on a rare kidney disease drug sank Dicerna’s stock in August, enabling Novo Nordisk to swoop in and buy the biotech at a price that would have been unthinkable just months ago.

The Danish drugmaker partnered with Dicerna in 2019, paying $175 million upfront and committing to pay $25 million at the end of each of the first three years of the collaboration, plus up to $357.5 million in milestones. The relationship gave Novo Nordisk a close look at Dicerna.

Novo Nordisk nominated the first candidate for IND-enabling studies in December 2020, leading the Danish drugmaker to express satisfaction with the progress to date and confidence that many more programs would follow as it created synergies between Dicerna and its disease area experts. Efforts to realize those synergies will now step up as Dicerna is integrated into Novo Nordisk. 

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The first candidate from the collaboration is set to enter the clinic next year. Beyond that, Dicerna and Novo Nordisk have looked at more than 30 liver cell targets implicated in disorders including chronic liver disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and rare diseases. 

As well as gaining control of the partnered projects, Novo Nordisk will acquire full and partial stakes in other candidates through the takeover. Dicerna’s lead candidate is nedosiran, the phase 3 kidney disease drug that underwhelmed investors over the summer. The biotech also has U.S. rights to the Alnylam-partnered liver disease drug belcesiran and a U.S. opt-in on a Roche hepatitis B prospect.

Those partnered programs are in phase 2. Dicerna’s next most advanced wholly owned candidate is DCR-AUD, an RNAi candidate that is in phase 1 development as a treatment of alcohol use disorder. 

As well as gaining the candidates, Novo Nordisk will add RNAi capabilities to its technology platforms. Interest in RNAi has ebbed and flowed over the years, but the modality is now on the rise again, with Alnylam bringing products to market and multiple Big Pharma companies partnering to access assets. Shares in Alnylam rose 4% to $180 in premarket trading in the wake of the Dicerna takeover.