UPDATED: MiRagen lands $352M microRNA development pact with Servier

Boulder, CO-based miRagen has racked up its first big collaboration, inking a development pact with France's Servier for two of its top preclinical programs as well as a third, as yet unidentified, program. In exchange for commercialization rights outside the U.S. and Japan, miRagen gets $45 million in an upfront payment, research support and near-term milestones, up to $352 million in total milestones and double-digit royalties on approved products.

Wrap it all up, says the biotech, and the deal could pay off in the neighborhood of $1 billion--provided, of course, everything works optimally. At this stage of the development game, though, it would be fair to say that that kind of payoff would require beating some tough odds.

Servier lands global rights--outside the U.S. and Japan, where miRagen stays in control--to programs that zero in on miR-208 and miR-15/195, two microRNA targets for cardiovascular conditions. Modulating miR-208 has shown some promise for improving cardiac function and survival rates during heart failure while inhibiting miR-15 could spur the development of healthy heart muscle cells while limiting the tissue damage inflicted by a heart attack.

For miRagen, the pact offers the prospect of earning some sizeable financial rewards while demonstrating the potential of its therapeutic platform in finding new drug candidates for the business development team to work with. The deal is also welcome news to Atlas Venture and Boulder Ventures, which helped launch miRagen with an $8 million Series A back in 2008. The new deal gives the fledgling biotech a fresh injection of equity-free capital.

The company was founded in 2007 with some investigative work from Eric Olson at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center along with contributions from Mike Bristow at the University of Colorado and the helping hand of Marvin Caruthers, a biotech entrepreneur at the University of Colorado in Boulder, CEO Bill Marshall tells FierceBiotech. Atlas Ventures' Bruce Booth is chairman of the board.

Since the $8 million A round in '08 the company added $4 million in a first-round extension with Amgen Ventures and Broadview Ventures. A convertible bridge loan pushed its total raise to $18 million. Now the biotech has a staff of about 20 with plans to add more. The strategy, says Marshall, has been to focus primarily on product development while building a platform technology that could be used to generate multiple programs. And now that it has the Servier partnership to help finance its work miRagen can begin to think through how and when it should go about organizing another funding round.

In addition to the two programs that are included in the Servier deal Marshall notes that the biotech is also working on miR-451, which is targeted at myloproliferative diseases and has already won orphan drug status at the FDA.

"More and more evidence is gathering to show that some microRNAs are not only cardiovascular biomarkers, but they also play a significant role in the pathogenesis of various diseases from heart failure to coronary disease," noted Dr. Jean-Paul Vilaine, head of Servier's cardiovascular unit.

- here's the miRagen release