Back in 2005, Novartis signed a three-year deal to develop RNAi treatments, which was extended for an additional year twice. In total, Novartis selected 31 potential targets for treating different diseases with the novel technology. Alnylam is due development and sales milestone payments if Novartis develops RNAi drugs further.
Novartis had the option of licensing Alnylam's technology to develop RNAi drugs against additional targets, but chose not to. I guess 31 targets was enough?
Now that Alnylam isn't doing research for Novartis, the company has decided to let some employees go. Cutting 25% to 30% of the workforce will result in a charge of about $3 million, but will reduce the cash burn by $25 million next year. For a company whose most advanced drug is only in phase 2, saving cash should be a top priority.
On one hand, I like Alnylam's multiple shots at getting cash from approved drugs. In addition to its own pipeline and the Novartis partnership, Alnylam also has formed partnerships with Biogen Idec
Shares have come down substantially since the euphoria of 2008 and are down an additional 6% on today's news. At one point Alnylam had a market cap of more than $1.4 billion, which was excessive even if every pharmaceutical company and its brother wanted a piece of the action.
At an enterprise value of just $340 million, Alnylam is looking like a potential takeout target. You certainly shouldn't buy solely on that possibility -- be prepared to hold for many years until the first drug is approved -- but the risk-reward ratio is looking a lot more tolerable than it was just a few years ago.
Has investors' view of risk reached insane levels? Tim Hanson thinks so.
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