GlaxoSmithKline is the latest drugs giant to expand its efforts in the RNA arena and has linked up with Regulus Therapeutics in a deal that could be worth almost $600 million.

The alliance has been set up to develop and market microRNA-targeted therapeutics to treat inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. Under the terms of the deal, Regulus, which is a joint venture set up at the end of last year between Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Isis Pharmaceuticals, will be responsible for the discovery and development of the microRNA antagonists. GSK will have the option to license product candidates directed at four different microRNA targets in inflammatory disease.

Cash-wise, Regulus will receive $20 million in upfront payments, including a $15 million option fee and a $5 million note that will convert into Regulus common stock in the future. The JV could also get $144.5 million in milestone payments for each of the four targets, plus tiered royalties up to double-digits on worldwide sales of products resulting from the alliance.

Jose Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, head of the immuno-inflammation Centre of Excellence for Drug Discovery at GSK, said that apart from internal efforts, the company is interested in 'virtualising' a portion of its inflammatory diseases pipeline. He described microRNAs as “an exciting new area of biology [which] “could revolutionise the way we treat immune diseases”.

The deal comes a few months after GSK entered into a pact potentially worth over $700 million with privately-owned Danish firm Santaris Pharma to develop antivirals using the latter’s RNA-interference technology.

GSK increases Irish investment
GSK also announced that it will invest 30 million euros into its plant in Dungarvan, County Waterford, Ireland.

The investment means that 50 new jobs will be created to the existing 1,450-strong workforce over three years to support the production of a smoking cessation product. The deal is supported by IDA Ireland, the government agency which is responsible for attracting foreign investment.