Alnylam Can Survive Being ‘Punched in the Face,’ President Says

  • Company’s value nearly halved after shuttering drug trial
  • Alnylam confident in safety of other products in testing

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. is ready to soldier on with other projects after the news that it’s shutting down a key therapy program cut its market value by almost half in a day.

“We’ve been punched in the face before, and we’ve come back,” President Barry Greene said Thursday in a telephone interview. “We’re highly confident in the clinical pipeline we have and we’ve built Alnylam to be resilient in times of adversity.”

Alnylam said Wednesday after market that it’s ending development of revusiran, a treatment for a rare and dangerous disease, after more patients on the drug died than those taking placebo in a final-stage study. That sparked investor concern that the problems extended beyond revusiran and the disease it’s designed to treat, called hereditary ATTR amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy. The shares plunged 48 percent Thursday to $36.21, the biggest loss in company history. 

Alnylam has “tremendous confidence that this was a revusiran-specific issue,” Greene said. Data from several late-stage studies of a related therapy, called patisiran, and studies of Alnylam’s other drugs backed up the company’s belief that its remaining experimental products are safe, he said. He also noted that patients in the patisiran study receive a smaller dose than those in the revusiran trial did.

Alnylam’s drugs use a technology called RNA interference, or RNAi, that blocks specific sections of RNA that act as messages to make proteins. Drugmakers like Alnylam are using RNAi to stop production of proteins linked to disease. The revusiran safety concerns may raise broader questions about the approach, according to Asthika Goonewardene, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

“It begs the question,” Goonewardene said. “You cannot rule out platform concern” with Alnylam’s technology.

Alnylam hasn’t said how many more patients on revusiran died than those on placebo, and Greene declined to do. Indeed, he said the company -- which learned of the data around noon on Wednesday -- is not sure that the difference in death rates between the two groups was caused by the drug. The company is still analyzing the numbers, he said.

As to when the data will be released, Greene wouldn’t say.

“Science is hard,” he said. “This could take a while.”

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