USA — Belgian biopharmaceutical company UCB and American pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly have led a US$52 million funding round for RNA biotech startup Switch Therapeutics for its conditionally activated siRNA molecules.

The startup claims its approach is more precise and potentially longer-lasting than other RNAi methods as it targets selected cells.

Switch Therapeutics plans to focus initially on the central nervous system but may expand into other disease areas with support from pharma partners.

Investors in this round include UCB Ventures, Insight Partners, Eli Lilly, BOLD Capital Partners, Ono Venture Investment, Wilson Hill, and numerous VC firms.

The biotech was founded by a team of leaders from Caltech, Harvard, and City of Hope, including Bill Goddard, John Rossi, Si-ping Han, and Lisa Scherer, who have collaborated on several patents over the past decade, with academic co-founder Saumya Das.

CEO Dee Datta previously held senior positions at XOMA and Forty Seven, which was acquired by Gilead.

She co-founded Allozyne with Bill Goddard, who also advised Datta and Han during their time at Caltech and has been involved in other successful ventures.

Switch combines single and double-stranded RNAs into a molecule that’s cell-selective, with a sensor developed by the company that signals when the siRNA switches on.

Switch plans to expand its leadership team and hasn’t disclosed details about clinical trials or its lead program. The company had some exposure to SVB but not all funds were affected by the bank failure.

According to a study by Cognitive Market Research, the Global Small Interfering RNA (siRNA) Market is expected to reach US$964.17 million by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 8.6% from 2023 to 2030.

To simplify and expedite the development process, companies in this market are forming strategic collaborations.

For example, Arrowhead and Horizon have partnered in a US$700 million deal to develop an RNAi drug.

Small interfering RNA (siRNA), also known as short interfering RNA, is a genetic medicine that has the potential to silence or knock down over-expressed genes in diseases.

RNA-based therapies have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases, including genetic disorders, cancer, and infectious diseases.

The success of mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines, such as Moderna’s and Pfizer/BioNTech’s, has also spurred interest in RNA-based therapies.

The major players in the global small interfering RNA (siRNA) therapeutics market include GE Dharmacon, Opko Health, Inc., Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Arrowhead Research Corp, Sanofi Genzyme, Genecon Biotechnologies Co., Ltd., Arbutus Biopharma Corp, Silence Therapeutics AG, and Sylentis S.A.

Partnerships in the cell and gene therapy space are on the rise, with a growing proportion of all partnerships being focused on cell and gene therapy R&D.

The field of cell-based immuno-oncology therapies is particularly active, representing nearly 60% of clinical trials in cancer treatment.

The potential therapeutic usage of RNA has also been promoted due to a better understanding of its vital role in various diseases.

Researchers are increasingly interested in siRNA therapeutics, which have captured the attention of companies like Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals and Horizon Therapeutics, who have entered into a global partnership and license agreement to develop the former’s RNAi therapeutic.

Sanofi and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Inc. have also announced a strategic restructuring of their RNAi therapeutics alliance to optimize the development and commercialization of specific products for the treatment of rare genetic diseases.

It has taken almost two decades to develop siRNA-based drugs, from conceptualization to execution. In August 2018, the FDA approved patisiran, marking the first siRNA drug.

The second drug, givosiran, gained approval in November 2019, and the third, lumasiran, in November 2020.

Currently, there are seven siRNA drugs in the advanced stages of Phase 3 clinical trials, including vutrisiran, nedosiran, inclisiran, fitusiran, teprasiran, cosdosiran, and tivanisiran. Several of these drugs are nearing FDA approval.

With four agents already approved by the FDA and many others in advanced stages of development, siRNA drugs are poised to become a standard modality of pharmacotherapy.

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