Sanofi grabs a $700M stake in Alnylam as it ups the ante on RNAi

Sanofi is doubling down on its RNAi development deal with Alnylam. The pharma giant ($SNY) says it will pay a hefty premium to buy up a 12% stake in the biotech, investing $700 million and greatly expanding its rights to Alnylam's ($ALNY) lead drug along with a portfolio of current and prospective therapies.

The deal highlights Big Pharma's return to RNAi, a new technology for gene silencing that experienced a deep chill several years ago as Roche ($RHHBY) and others bowed out of the field. But Roche recently struck its second RNAi pact and Sanofi clearly believes that the industry is nearing some critical product-development milestones.

The expanded partnership also spotlights Sanofi's growing involvement in the Boston hub, where it paid $20 billion for Genzyme and its rare disease drugs. Now the Genzyme subsidiary will work with Alnylam on patisiran, in development for TTR-familial amyloid polyneuropathy, gaining marketing rights outside of North America and Europe. Sanofi also gains marketing rights to three other therapies in the pipeline while nabbing options on all other products that treat rare diseases.

Alnylam execs have been one of the chief proponents of RNAi as the next big product arena, with potential to rival monoclonal antibodies in terms of revenue potential. And they clearly relished the opportunity to boast about the new deal at the beginning of the big JPMorgan conference in San Francisco.

"RNAi therapeutics now have the opportunity to be the next product platform," Alnylam COO Barry Greene told Reuters.

- here's the release