Monday, October 30, 2006

When It Rains It Pours...

And the Colorado M&A hits keep on coming…Merck & CO. (NYSE: MRK) announced the $1.1 billon acquisition of San Francisco headquartered Sirna Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDQ: RNAI).

Why does an acquisition story about an acquirer from New Jersey and an acquiree from San Francisco make it onto the virtual pages of Colorado Life Science Deal Flow you may ask? Well…

The story begins back in Boulder, CO, circa early-eighties, when then CU-Boulder biochemistry professor turned Nobel Prize winner (1989) and current Howard Hughes Medical Institute President, Thomas Cech, Ph.D. demonstrated how, using the Tetrahymena model organism, RNA could fold into complex shapes and catalyze biochemical reactions, a function previously thought to be restricted only to protein enzymes. This discovery led to the founding of Ribozyme Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (RPI) in 1992, where the catalytic properties of the “Ribozyme” would be designed as a therapeutic approach to target and cleave specific mRNA’s in specific diseases.

Tetrahymena - Where it all began
Courtesy of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine - Yeshiva University

As the fate of science, technology and innovation would have it the cellular mechanism RNA interference (RNAi) emerged as an extremely specific method for targeting mRNA’s and inhibiting gene expression. Thus RPI was in part reorganized as Sirna Therapeutics, Inc. in 2002 to focus pursuit upon the short interfering RNA (siRNA) technology and current CEO Howard Robin & Co. have subsequently continued to further build out a potent IP portfolio, become the first company to bring a chemically optimized siRNA into clinical trials, and have demonstrated stability, circulation, tissue targeting, cellular activity and immune response efficacy in their preclinical compounds. Shortly after the reorg the city of San Francisco presented an opportunity to then Boulder-based Sirna that could not be refused and if I am not mistaken all but the cGMP manufacturing facility packed up and headed West.

So on the heels of Gilead-Myogen and Endo-RxKinetix, the Merck-Sirna deal perhaps catapults the 2006 bio deals to the level of historic; and further validates the strength of the universities, IP, talent and investors in Colorado. But shhhh…I have reason to believe that this is just a taste of what is to come.

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