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Alnylam makes further cuts to workforce

Third of staff to go as company moves from discovery-stage focus to having multiple products in development

US biotech Alnylam is cutting a third of its staff as it tries to make the complicated transition from a discovery-stage company to one with multiple products in development.

The layoffs will save around $20m in 2012, after an initial cost of $4m in the first quarter of the year, according to the gene silencing specialist, which focuses on developing drugs based on RNA interference (RNAi). 

Alnylam ended 2011 with around $260m in cash and, according to its latest financial report, employed around 170 staff at the end of the third quarter 2011.

This is the second time in 18 months that Alnylam has made cuts to its workforce. The company cut more than a quarter of positions towards the end of 2010 after a long-term agreement with Novartis came to a close.

"As we effect our ongoing transformation from a platform company to a product company, now is the time to focus our near-term efforts and resources on what we believe to be our highest value opportunities," said Alnylam's chief executive John Maraganore.

That involves accelerating the clinical development of the company's two lead programmes - ALN-TTR for the treatment of transthyretin-mediated amyloidosis and ALN-APC for haemophilia, which are both in early development.

Alnylam has also recently reported progress with its ALN-PCS programme in hypercholesterolaemia, which is currently in a phase I trial.

The company is working on a strategy - known as '5x15' - which has the aim of having five RNAi-based therapeutics addressing clinical indications with high unmet need by the end of 2015.

All the programmes should have biomarkers to aid early clinical development and well-documented clinical endpoints for late-stage clinical testing.

After an initial wave of enthusiasm in the early 2000s, interest in RNAi therapies waned on the back of a number of clinical trial failures - often caused by delivery difficulties - and Roche's decision to pull out of RNA-targeted therapy research in 2010.

Alnylam has invested heavily in new technologies to try to overcome the delivery obstacles, and believes its new generation of therapeutics could provide reliable, systemic delivery with injections as infrequently as once every two months.

20th January 2012

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