Alnylam a ‘premier league’ addition to UK biotech

US biotech company Alnylam has opened its new European operational headquarters in the UK, further boosting confidence in the country’s life sciences sector after the Brexit vote.

Alnylam is the frontrunner in the hugely promising field of RNAi therapeutics, a gene silencing technology which could treat a huge range of conditions, from rare diseases to hepatitis B, which affects 300 million worldwide.

It has the largest market cap of any biotech with no products yet on the market, around $6.5 billion. This value is built on growing expectation of its pipeline of drugs, the first expected to reach the market by 2018, with this rising to five products by 2020.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the company yesterday opened the UK and Ireland office in Maidenhead, a commuter town 30 miles west of London.

The event was a homecoming for the company’s British-born head of R&D and chief medical officer Akshay Vaishnaw, who also completed his medical training in the country.

The company’s official European headquarters will be established in Zug, Switzerland, but Vaishnaw said the UK office would be the operational headquarters for the continent.

Maidenhead is also, coincidentally, the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Theresa May. She sent a letter of welcome to the company, and will be heartened by another vote of confidence in the UK despite the Brexit vote nearly three months ago.

Vaishnaw told pharmaphorum that the company was not deterred by the Brexit decision, and felt that the UK still had a great deal to offer, including world-leading academic research, and strong talent pools in R&D and commercial operations.

The Maidenhead office has opened with a core clinical development, regulatory affairs, and commercial team, with space for a further 100 employees.

“We’re thrilled to be expanding our global presence in the United Kingdom and Maidenhead in particular,” said Vaishnaw.

“This important new office will play a critical role in advancing our cutting-edge investigational RNAi therapies toward regulatory approval and launch in European markets to benefit patients with life-threatening diseases as quickly as possible.”

Steve Bates, chief executive of the UK BioIndustry Association was also there to welcome the company, and compared it to the top flight of British football (soccer) or American football.

“This is a Premier League, NFL style company. Anylam really is one of the real leaders of the Cambridge – Boston area, that’s the type of organisation we have here.”

One of the most compelling reasons for the UK being a base for Alnylam is its existing links with leading academic researchers in the country, most particularly in haemophilia. The company recently unveiled phase 1 trials of its molecule fitusaran which helped patients to be ‘bleed free’ for three months, and Vaishnaw paid tribute to UK clinicians who had helped pioneer the treatment.

The company says it will remain committed to the UK, even if the European regulator the EMA has to move to another country, as expected because of Brexit. Filing of its first drug patisiran, a treatment for rare disease hereditary ATTR amyloidosis, is expected by the end of 2017.

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