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Alnylam Sues Dicerna

Here’s the latest RNAi dustup: Alnylam has filed a “trade secret misappropriation” lawsuit against Dicerna (thanks to a commenter here for mentioning this news). The real issue seems to be use of GalNAc conjugates for delivering siRNAs to the liver. Alnylam’s president, Barry Greene says that “Alnylam has led the discovery and development of GalNAc conjugate technology for delivery of RNA therapeutics, including through technology we obtained from our $175 million Sirna Therapeutics acquisition in our 2014 transaction with Merck.”
That’s where it’ll get complicated. The RNAi Blog notes this lawsuit is claiming that Dicerna hired some of Merck’s laid-off RNA people after that 2014 deal with Alnylam, which is when Merck finally wrote off the last of their earlier investment in Sirna.
So this all may come down to what the Merck people knew when they went to Dicerna, whether they were bound by noncompete agreements or not, and what the legal status of the GalNac technology was at the time. Keep in mind that trade secrets are very different things than patents. If a trade secret holder did not take “reasonable protective measures”, there may not be room for a misappropriation claim. (New Jersey has adopted a law based on the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, mentioned in that article, but although Massachusetts has not, its laws do have similar provisions on protection). We may not get to find out all the details – I’m guessing that this is one of those cases that’s going to end in some sort of settlement – but this situation is worth keeping an eye on.

14 comments on “Alnylam Sues Dicerna”

  1. biotechtoreador says:

    GalNAc is well known to delivery molecules to the liver. Be interesting to see how ALNY thinks it has ownership of an idea that predates its corporate existence by decades.

  2. Anonymous says:

    So Merck is upset that the people they laid off took their critical know-how elsewhere? That’s not misappropriation, it’s called short-sighted stupidity! Merck should sue the managers who made the stupid decision to lay off those guys.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, wrong company…
    So Alnylam is upset that the people they laid off took their critical know-how elsewhere? That’s not misappropriation, it’s called short-sighted stupidity! Alnylam should sue the managers who made the stupid decision to lay off those guys.

  4. biotechie says:

    #2 (and #3!). The employees were laid off from Merck. Alynlam did have some research partnerships with Merck in the 2000s and bought Merck’s Sirna division in 2014; the question is how much of the knowledge about GalNAc did the ex-Merck employees know?
    BTW #1 is right. GalNAc and ASGPR is decades-old idea long predating Alynlam.

  5. Hap says:

    I think the employees were Merck’s who worked with Sirna; when Merck dumped the program and sold off the pieces to Alnylam, they laid off the employees. Merck developed the technique, and presumably Alnylam bought the technology from Merck.
    The person who wrote the blog post doesn’t like Alnylam much, but if his representation is accurate, then Alnylam figures anyone who has ever worked on RNAi at a company Alnylam’s even fantasized about purchasing should be off-limits to anyone in the field, and if they think that, someone else in the field hiring said employees is clearly out of line. The karmic kicker of the post is that presumably Alnylam has tried this before from the other side (they were sued by Tekmira for trade secret issues). I guess they have my children’s idea of fair (sort of borrowed from Clancy) in which if they don’t get what they want, it isn’t fair.

  6. anon says:

    Alnylam is pretty adamant in not referencing anyone other than themselves in using GalNac for delivery.

  7. anon says:

    @5/6, so are all of these biotechs. the breakthrough ideas come from academic groups, spin-off biotechs are born, and the scientists (maybe just VPs/Execs) there adopt the mantra that they created all of the value and came up with the ideas…no doubt both sides are needed, especially the biotechs for translation, but they don’t need to try and claim the underlying concepts they were not involved in discovering/developing

  8. milkshake says:

    good luck with that. Unless it can be proven that the people actually took files of internal documents from the old employer, brought them to their new job and used them in their work, or unless there was a very specific and reasonable non-competing agreement, the theft of trade secrets is hard to prove, even with a suspicious timing.

  9. anon-ymous(e) says:

    Come on now….anyone with (half) a brain would know that you can attach Gal / GalNAc (preferably in clusters) to pretty much any molecule and get hepatocyte uptake of that molecule via the “Ashwell” receptor. Worked on this concept in the LATE 1970’s.

  10. Am I Lloyd says:

    The best secret vault is up there. The only way you get access to it is to pry it open from my cold dead body. In which case you get nothing.

  11. Know I am kinda late... says:

    …but might these folks get dragged into the fray also?

  12. anonymous says:

    @5 Hap, you allude to Dirk’s public and persistent disdain for Alnylam’s management. He is very plain in disclosing his sentiments. Still, we should reserve judgment until additional information becomes available and not immediately discredit the messenger. As you note, there is an irony in the claim by Alnylam against Dicerna given the recent debacle by the former with Tekmira over IP issues. During the period when Alnylam was dependent on Tekmira’s SNALP technology to advance their clinical candidates, internally, it was common for certain senior management personnel to trash talk Mark Murray, Tekmira’s CEO. Paragons of corporate virtue they are not. Your analogy to children is most appropriate.
    John Maraganore and Barry Greene undoubtedly rue that day long ago day when they agreed to meet and talk with Dirk….

  13. Hap says:

    I wasn’t assuming that the person who wrote the blog was letting his bias run away with him, just that I don’t know enough to tell.

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