DENMARK – Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical company, has agreed to buy Dicerna Pharmaceuticals for US$3.3 billion in cash, the company has announced.

Dicerna Pharmaceuticals creates RNAi-based therapies that selectively silence genes that cause or contribute to disease, effectively preventing disease manifestation by producing proteins.

With the agreement, Novo joins rivals such as Novartis in betting on RNA interference technology, or RNAi, in which disease-causing genes are silenced or rendered ineffective. Genes are at the root of thousands of diseases.

In 2019, Novo and Dicerna began a research collaboration to pursue several clinical candidates for disorders such as chronic liver disease, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), type 2 diabetes, obesity, and rare diseases.

This acquisition supports Novo Nordisk’s strategy of developing and applying a broad range of technology platforms across all Novo Nordisk therapeutic areas,” the company said in a statement.

Novo, the world’s largest producer of diabetes drugs, stated that the first investigational therapeutic to emerge from this collaboration will begin clinical development in 2022.

Amgen, in collaboration with Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals, and Regeneron, in collaboration with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, are two other companies working on RNAi cardiovascular drugs.

The transaction, which will be primarily financed by debt, is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2021.

The acquisition will have no effect on Novo’s full-year guidance, but it is expected to have a 3% negative impact on operating profit growth in 2022.

Other companies in RNAi technology

Dicerna’s pipeline includes treatments for a variety of metabolic and cardiometabolic disorders. However, Dicerna’s programs have not been without controversy.

In August, Nedosiran, an RNAi therapy for the rare kidney disorder primary hyperoxaluria, revealed disappointing Phase 3 results. Hyperoxaluria is a rarere genetic condition whereby a person has too much oxalate in the urine.

There are three types of primary hyperoxaluria, and the Dicerna drug was only effective in treating the most severe.

Dicerna shares fell as a result of the results, which will limit Nedosiran’s ability to compete against an Alnylam-marketed primary hyperoxaluria drug.

However, Dicerna has other programs in the works, the majority of which are being developed in collaboration with larger corporations. Roche, Alnylam, Eli Lilly, and AstraZeneca subsidiary Alexion are among the partners.

Large pharmaceutical companies have been forming alliances in order to gain a foothold in the RNAi market.

Takeda Pharmaceutical paid Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals US$300 million up front to begin a collaboration on an RNAi drug for a rare liver disease a little more than a year ago.

Arrowhead’s existing alliances with Horizon Therapeutics, Johnson & Johnson, and Amgen were strengthened by this agreement.

Novartis also entered the RNAi fray when it completed its US$9.7 billion acquisition of The Medicines Company, which was centered on that company’s RNAi drug, Leqvio, also known as inclisiran for high cholesterol.

The compound is approved for use in Europe, but approval in the United States has been delayed.

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