The USA’s Alnylam Pharmaceuticals has become the first drugmaker to sign up to GlaxoSmithKline’s patent pool which the UK drug major hopes will stimulate research into neglected tropical diseases.

Alnylam has agreed to contribute more than 1,500 issued or pending patents on its RNA interference (RNAi) technology patent estate to the pool established by GSK in March. The latter launched the pool by providing some 800 patent filings.

Alnylam is an expert in ‘gene silencing’, a technology that targets the cause of diseases by potently silencing specific messenger RNAs (mRNAs), thus preventing disease-causing proteins from being made. The firm’s chief executive John Maraganore noted that “we cannot ignore the potential of our technology to make a difference in the discovery of important new medicines for neglected diseases”, adding that Alnylam is “very proud to be joining GSK in this unique and bold vision of social responsibility”.

GSK chief executive Andrew Witty said that “the key objective of the pool is to make it easier for researchers across the world to access intellectual property”, adding that “the more companies, academic institutions and foundations that join the pool, the more effective it will be”. He went on to say that Alnylam’s announcement “is therefore a welcome and significant step forward”.

The diseases targeted by the pool are the 16 diseases identified by the US Food and Drug Administration for its own Neglected Tropical Diseases initiative. These are tuberculosis, malaria, blinding trachoma, buruli ulcer, cholera, dengue/dengue haemorrhagic fever, racunculiasis, fascioliasis, human African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, soil transmitted helminthiasis and yaws.

Alnylam’s RNAi technology has already helped to identify new targets for malaria treatments, the company said.