Why are nearly half of all recent biotech RNA alliances in Asia-Pacific betting big on oligonucleotides?

By Jonathan Smith

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty AI
Image: Getty AI

Related tags mRNA mRNA therapeutics APAC Oligonucleotides mRNA vaccines

A recent study finds RNA deals are “dominated” by oligonucleotides and mRNA vaccines in APAC

Almost half of all strategic alliances focused on RNA therapies over the last five years in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region involved oligonucleotides and over a third centered on mRNA vaccines, says a report from GlobalData.

Of the 59 strategic alliances examined in the study, covering Australia, China, Japan, and South Korea, oligonucleotides and mRNA vaccines accounted for 48 while the remaining 11 involved aptamers and gene therapy. The top deal was a $1.3 billion pact in 2021 between UK-based Silence Therapeutics and Chinese firm Hansoh Pharmaceutical Group to license the former’s short interfering RNA (siRNA) therapeutics.

“The rapid development of mRNA vaccines in response to the Covid‐19 pandemic has led to a resurgence of interest in RNA therapies, thereby, the number of deals focused on mRNA therapies has increased over the past four years,” said Nelluri Geetha, pharma analyst at GlobalData, in a public statement. “RNA-therapies hold great promise for combating human diseases such as infectious diseases, cancer, neurodegeneration, metabolic disorders, and rare genetic diseases.”

An emerging market

Some of the biggest advantages of RNA-based drugs over other types of therapies such as small molecules and proteins include being easier and cheaper to develop, and being easily modifiable – a big plus when it comes to personalized medicine and combating evolving pathogens. While RNA molecules tend to be unstable, the development of delivery technology such as lipid-based nanoparticles is helping to overcome these limitations.

Two key mRNA Covid-19 vaccines developed in the Western world, Cominarty and Spikevax, were central to deals in 2020 inked between BioNTech and Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical and between Moderna and Takeda Pharmaceutical. Overall, mRNA vaccine deals featured oncology and infectious disease indications while oligonucleotide deals, limited to products in phase 3 development and below, saw a wider range of therapeutic areas in their cross hairs.

The global market for RNA therapeutics is expected to balloon to $1.1 billion by 2035 with a compounded annual growth rate of 50%, according to a report from ResearchAndMarkets. While North America hosts the vast majority of the projected market share, around 94%, the APAC region is set for faster growth, noted the report. Additionally, many governments and manufacturers across the APAC region are supporting the adoption of mRNA technology with investments and new facilities.

“The growing pipeline of RNA-based therapies for various diseases would bring new treatment approaches for unmet medical needs,” stated Geetha, adding that “more partnerships for oligonucleotides and mRNA vaccines are expected, thereby improving the RNA-based therapy landscape in the APAC region.”

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