Novartis teams with US biotech Alnylam on pandemic flu drug

Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis is teaming up with US biotech Alnylam to produce a new type of treatment for pandemic flu, including avian flu, The Financial Times reported today. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The treatment, which is not likely to progress past clinical trials before 1-2 years, according Novartis, will be based on a naturally occurring gene silencing mechanism, called RNA interface (RNAi). Mark Fishman, president of the Novartis Institute of Biomedical Research told The Financial Times “An RNAi therapeutic could be an innovative modality, crippling the virus through incapacitating several genes. In addition, such drugs might be adapted to new strains as they emerge.” Novartis in September backed the potentially revolutionary scientific approach by paying $56.8 million for a 20% stake in Alnylam, as part of a wide-ranging collaboration to develop treatments for a number of diseases. Roche’s anti-viral drug Tamiflu is considered the most effective treatment for bird flu on the market. The drug does not prevent infection but reduces the risk of fatality if taken within a few days of the onset of symptoms. Other companies that produce flu vaccines are also developing vaccines to guard against bird flu. These include Sanofi-Aventis and Chiron, the US biotech company being acquired by Novartis.