Oligonucleotides in the spotlight as GSK snaps up RNA startup for up to $50 million

By Jonathan Smith

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images
© Getty Images
GSK has acquired its San Diego-based collaborator Elsie Biotechnologies to strengthen its efforts in developing oligonucleotide therapeutics.

The deal, which has no closing conditions, lets the UK pharma giant tap into Elsie’s discovery, synthesis, and delivery technologies linked with RNA-based therapies. GSK also plans to blend its own artificial intelligence know-how with data from Elsie’s technology to develop predictive models to guide the design of future oligonucleotide drugs.

GSK is already developing its own oligonucleotide programs, including bepirovirsen, a phase 3-stage treatment for chronic hepatitis B, said Tony Wood, GSK’s chief scientific officer, in a public statement​. The two partners first struck a collaboration deal in July 2023, where GSK validated Elsie’s technology.

“By bringing together Elsie’s expertise and our internal capabilities, we can design and develop oligonucleotides for difficult-to-treat diseases of scale with larger patient populations,” Wood added.

Oligonucleotides potential

Oligonucleotides are short DNA or RNA molecules that can influence which genes are turned into proteins in the body, letting companies hit targets that may be out of reach of small molecule or biologic approaches. Examples include messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, which shot to fame for their role in preventing COVID-19 during the pandemic, and antisense oligonucleotides like bepirovirsen, which block the production of a target protein.

Moderna in particular has a strong presence​ in the world of oligonucleotides with an approved COVID vaccine and another recent approval of a vaccine preventing infection by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Meanwhile, GSK’s Arexvy, the first FDA-approved vaccine for RSV, is a more traditional type of vaccine that contains a version of a protein on the surface of RSV and was recently greenlit for a wider age range of adults than it was originally approved to treat in 2023.

Acquisition appetite

GSK heralded a strong start to 2024 with a 10% rise in sales, according to its results from Q1 2024. The company has also been active in acquisitions in the last few years, with hot deals including Bellus Health for $2 billion and the antibody drug player Aiolos Bio for $1.1 billion.

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