The UK’s Silence Therapeutics has signed a collaboration with Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma Co which it hopes will lead to a major partnership.

The RNA interference specialist, which has bases in London and Berlin, says that Dainippon has asked the firm to “demonstrate the functional delivery” of its siRNA molecules to specific, but undisclosed, targets. Silence has developed AtuRNAi, a short interfering RNA (siRNA) molecule which it says is “chemically modified to improve stability, reduce manufacturing costs and increase yield”.

The collaboration will also make use of Silence’s AtuPLEX delivery technology, “which has been shown to improve functional intracellular uptake”. Chief executive Iain Ross said the deal “further underscores the potential of Silence’s science and delivery technology” and “we anticipate that the initial collaboration will lead to a substantive relationship between our companies.”

Keiichi Ono, executive director of the drug research division at the Japanese drugmaker, said Silence was chosen as a partner “following extensive due diligence in the sector”. RNAi, one of the hottest new areas of drug research, involves a naturally-occurring mechanism within cells that potentially forms the basis for a new class of drugs that can selectively silence the inappropriate activity of specific genes within the cell. Other major players include Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Roche-owned Mirus Bio Corp.

Mr Ono added that Silence was picked because of its “proven ability in the delivery of siRNA molecules and the depth of its experience in this area”. Financial details of the agreement have not been disclosed.