Firm claims rights to GalNAc conjugated siRNA technology acquired from Merck & Co

The US biopharmaceutical company Alnylam has filed a ‘trade secret misappropriation’ lawsuit against fellow Cambridge-based firm Dicerna. The suit accuses Dicerna of stealing its proprietary technology for conjugating N-acetyl galactosamine (GalNAc) to short interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules.

Alnylam’s president, Barry Greene, contends that the company obtained the technology in 2014, when it acquired Sirna Therapeutics – at that time a subsidiary of Merck & Co. GalNAc conjugation enables more convenient, subcutaneous administration of drug candidates.

The lawsuit, filed on 10 June, accuses Dicerna of gaining access to confidential documents and trade secrets by hiring six Merck scientists who were involved in earlier RNAi work, even though they had signed confidentiality agreements. The complaint alleges that Dicerna’s product candidates and delivery technologies are ‘strikingly similar’ to those developed at Sirna and Merck, which now belong to Alnylam. It also suggests that some scientists hired by Dicerna were observed removing material from the Merck facility before they left the company.

For its part, Dicerna has called Alnylam’s legal complaint ‘meritless,’ suggesting that the legal action is based on ‘assumptions rather than facts.’ Dicerna’s chief executive, Douglas Fambrough, said his company’s RNAi-based therapeutics use proprietary RNAi technology, not prior Merck research.