Thursday, January 21, 2010

Merck's Alan Sachs Grants Very Candid RNAi Prospects Interview

This is simply a great interview/article, by Xconomy's Luke Timmerman -- do go read it all -- five pages of what Merck's leader in this area sees in RNAi's future, tempered by the reality of an industry veteran's battle scars. An interview like this -- tempering near term prospects, by an officer of a subsidiary of the New Merck, to boot -- with Corporate Communications people sitting in -- might suggest that Whitehouse Station feels Merck's current NYSE stock price-action is getting a little ahead of its near term prospects. Thus, a snippet -- do go read it all, though:

. . . .Question: So I guess that means there’s a lot of hype here, right?

Alan Sachs (Merck): There’s a lot of hype, and there’s a lot of ideas. But it’s not a straightforward problem. Injecting something in the bloodstream, leading to something appearing in the cytoplasm in the RNA-silencing complex, there are a lot of black boxes between those two steps. People who are entering the field start with a white paper. It’s much like people who started on targeted therapeutics years ago started with a white paper. If it were so easy, one would have to describe why so few examples exist. The same is true in the RNAi delivery process. You can write down the steps. You can write down what you think will happen. But then you have to put it in a 50-nanometer particle that’s safe and potent to deliver. . . .

Question: Do you worry about things getting a little too frothy RNAi? Because history with other new therapies, like monoclonal antibodies, there was tons of hype in the 1980s, followed by a long bust in the 1990s, before a few products got across the finish line.

Alan Sachs (Merck): My background in molecular profiling was around when the Human Genome Project sequence came out in 2000 and 2001, and living through that bubble. What you realize is that the essence of the excitement is correct, and the reduction to practice may make it less-than-anticipated, but it’s still real. The same thing will be true of the RNA therapeutics space. There is a lot of expectation and anticipation. The reality will be somewhere between that, and zero. We’d like to think because of the experience we have in our company that we have a clear line of sight on what’s practical within a certain time frame.

This will settle down. The acquisition of Sirna by Merck really set this thing off. We’re three years past that. I think in two more years, you’ll see this settle down, much like in the genomics space. In genomics, many of the opportunities consolidated into a few big players. The same thing will happen here. But the big companies like Merck, Roche, Novartis and Pfizer, that have committed to do this, ultimately will be there. Because of the long-term potential of the modality, not the immediate potential, but the long-term potential. It’s huge. . . .

To my eye, this does seem a rather-official soft-pedaling of the recent run-up in Merck's stock price. And that, my friends, would be smart investor relations.


Anonymous said...

Give him credit to say "There is a lot of expectation and anticipation. The reality will be somewhere between that, and zero."

It really is the system that causes this confusion.

In order to get funded (in grants) or support by investors, you have to sell the idea as the 'perfect' answer to whatever disease you're targeting. If not, there isn't the support.

And that is trying to sell your idea to people that know a little of the science. Trying to sell 'why' your investing to the general American population, based on a particular scientific/medical basis, is even more difficult given the level of education in the sciences.

Condor said...

I do [give him much credit].

As I said -- I think this a great interview -- and a very solid piece of balanced journalism.

That sort of balance has been lacking -- from much of the boosterish commentary, that goes unchallenged -- in most major media outlets, when it comes to pharma. There are some very notable exceptions -- but in the main, that seems to be the way -- at least here in the USA.

I suspect America's science illiteracy is at the root of a fair bit of it, per your observation, above.

Journalists can't effectively question something they don't effectively comprehend.

Thanks for the cogent insights; do stop back!