Dharmacon and Alcon have announced that they are to collaborate on the discovery of therapies for eye disease using RNAi technology.
The specificity molecular mechanism of RNAi may allow for the development of safer and effective drugs targeting previously "non-druggable" targets.
RNAi-based drugs, known as small interfering RNAs, may be able to treat ophthalmic diseases, because drug delivery to the eye is relatively straightforward and controllable than systemic administration.
Under the terms of the agreement, Dharmacon, a business unit of the Fisher Biosciences group is to enter into the deal with Alcon Research, and Alcon Manufacturing, affiliates of Alcon.
Alcon and Dharmacon will select and prioritise disease-related gene targets, while Dharmacon will be involved in the design and chemical modification of siRNAs to develop compounds.
Central to this deal is the part Dharmacon's SMARTselection will play. The technology is a tool designed for siRNA design; it is an in silico process based on a weighted algorithm which incorporates numerous sequence-specific and thermodynamic parameters as well as bioinformatic analysis to identify functional siRNAs.
“We believe RNAi has the potential to generate the next wave of important ophthalmic drugs,” said Martin Wax, vice president of research and development and director of ophthalmology discovery research at Alcon.
According to a report by Frost and Sullivan, RNAi drugs for eye diseases such as macular degeneration might be a reality by 2010.
An alliance between Merck and Alnylam, formed in June 2004, could fast track the first drug in this class through to market.
The alliance is focused on using RNAi to treat macular degeneration of the eye, as well as other ocular diseases caused by abnormal growth or leakage of small blood vessels in the eye.