Amid a tough week for biotech, a few companies had it worse than others. Alnylam, Isis Pharmaceuticals, Regulus Therapeutics, Dicerna Pharmaceuticals and Tekmira Pharmaceuticals have all sunk by more than 12 percent in the last week, compared with a 6 percent drop for the Nasdaq biotech index.
What do they all have in common? They're working in RNA therapeutics, a technology that aims to stop production of disease-causing proteins.
On Monday, the area was dealt a blow when drug giant Novartis said it was getting out of the technology, citing "ongoing challenges with formulation and delivery" and a narrow set of potential medical applications, according to FierceBiotech, which broke the news.
Novartis' move followed an exit by Merck in January, when it sold the unit it purchased for $1.1 billion in 2006 to Alnylam for just $175 million plus potential payments tied to product success. But to call this week's news a setback for RNA companies touches a nerve for some.
"As we know from the story of recombinant DNA and monoclonal antibodies, big pharma has been a miserable barometer of new platforms and innovation," Barry Greene, Alnylam's president, said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "They abandoned monoclonal antibodies in the '90s, claiming lack of commercial relevance, and didn't get back in until it was a major commercial reality. The same story's playing out with RNAi."