Silence Therapeutics PLC (LON:SLN) chief executive Ali Mortazavi called 2016 a year of “transformation and transition” both for the science around which the company is based and for the business itself.
Key to that transition was the focus on GalNAc delivery technology having “largely abandoned” the complex lipid nanoparticle approach.
“To capitalise on this new sector focus we were also able to utilise our strong balance sheet to acquire a strategic stake in Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals, with whom we hope to work closely in 2017 and onwards,” said Mortazavi.
Silence bought an initial 4.7% stake and has since bumped that up to 9.2% at a total cost of £9.2mln.
Among the other operational highlights was an £800,000 milestone payment from Quark Pharmaceuticals after the successful resolution of a dispute.
Quark should have a read-out from a phase II clinical programme that uses Silence’s technology in the second half, while a separate phase III study is ongoing.
“If successful, these products will lead to meaningful milestones and royalties for Silence,” the company said.
As is common for a drug developer at this formative stage of development it was loss-making. The shortfall for the 12 months ended December was £8.4mln. More importantly Silence is sitting on cash of £39mln.
The company is a pioneer in RNA interference (RNAi). This is the cellular process of silencing unwanted or harmful genes.
The problem with this exciting field of science is not with the technology per se.
Rather the delivery of the therapeutic to where it is most efficacious has been the stumbling block for the industry. This is why Silence has opted for a change of tack.
The company announced it had the capacity to run five to seven “high-conviction” pre-clinical projects using GalNAc, which is liver-focused. And earlier it provided details on the new additions to the pipeline.
Chief executive Mortazavi said: “The switch was an important technical one and really enabled us to harness the power of the technology of RNA interference.”
GalNAc more predictable
He described GalNAc as a “more predictable technology”. It is also the delivery platform used by investee company Arrowhead, which presents common ground if and when it comes to collaboration.
Mortazavi was tight-lipped on what form any co-operation might take. “Going it alone with our own technology, our own ideas and our own disease work is a major focus of our group,” he told Proactive Investor.
But he added: “Arrowhead is another spoke of our strategy as well as our own therapeutic pipeline. We hope to be working with them and are in discussions to do so.”
The Silence boss said the current year could be a big one for RNAi technology, which has been around since the early part of the last decade but is only just starting to deliver on its early promise.
The aforementioned Quark trials using Silence technology will figure in the headlines, he added.
“2017 is going to be quite action packed we believe we have positioned the company for when RNA interference transforms from a technology to its promise of a new class of therapeutics,” said Mortazavi.