The USA’s Alnylam Pharmaceuticals has established an alliance with Japan's Kyowa Hakko Kogyo for the development and commercialisation in Asia of its lead RNA interference therapeutic, a respiratory drug, in Asia.

The agreement covers ALN-RSV01, an RNAi therapeutic which is in Phase II clinical development for the treatment of respiratory syncytial virus infection. Under the terms of deal, Kyowa Hakko will pay Alnylam $15 million upfront and up to an additional $78 million in development and sales milestone payments.

Upon commercialisation, Alnylam will receive double-digit royalties based on the sales of ALN-RSV01 in Japan and other major markets in Asia. The partnership also includes additional RSV-specific RNAi therapeutic compounds and Alnylam retains all development and commercialisation rights worldwide excluding Asia.

Yuzuru Matsuda, chief executive at Kyowa Hakko, which is now majority-owned by Japanese brewer Kirin, said that “we have been watching the progress Alnylam has made with their ALN-RSV01 programme”. He added that his firm is looking forward to working with the US firm, “the most scientifically advanced company in the field of RNAi”.

RNAi is one of the hottest new areas of drug research and resulted in the 2006 Nobel Prize in medicine for the two discoverers of the technology, Andrew Fire and Craig Mello. It is a naturally-occurring mechanism within cells and potentially forms the basis for a new class of drugs that can selectively silence the inappropriate activity of specific genes within the cell.

Kyowa Hakko is the second Japanese firm Alnylam has teamed up with of late as last month a deal worth potentially $1 billion with Takeda Pharmaceutical Co covering non-exclusive licences in two RNAi treatment fields, oncology and metabolic diseases.