The Kreutzer-Limmer (KL) patent estate, exclusively owned by Alnylam and very broadly claiming double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) for gene silencing in human cells (up to 15-49 base pair dsRNAs), won an important battle at an oral hearing last week at the European Patent Office. This comes after Kreutzer-Limmer has suffered a number of setbacks at the EPO about one and a half years ago. The resuscitation of KL means that Alnylam may leverage this patent as potentially gate-keeping as it looks to enter additional non-exclusive licensing partners for its dominant RNAi Therapeutics patent portfolio, also as a potential backstop in the unlikely event that Alnylam loses the fight for the key Tuschl inventions.
The decision reversed an earlier rejection based on technical objections, mainly by Sirna/Merck and Silence Therapeutics, that some of the claims in the daughter application at issue had been incorrectly drawn from the parental application. In general, the main claim describing the structure of gene silencing short dsRNAs are somewhat clumsily constructed and not as straight-forward as one might imagine. This could be the result of having to take into account the embodiments underlying this claim.
If it were not be so important, reading the deeply philosophical arguments of what it means to be 'double-stranded' can be quite amusing, but unfortunately also very time-consuming and distracting, as are these drawn-out patent back-and-forths. Especially for smaller companies like Silence Therapeutics it may actually be worth focusing on developing the enabling delivery technologies and their therapeutic pipelines instead of having their lead scientists waste their creative juices taking part in these battles.
It is likely that the patent will go back again, but this time to be challenged on other issues such as novelty. Regardless, Alnylam should benefit from last week's decision to uphold Kreutzer-Limmer in that it adds to the appearance that, no matter how the individual patent chips fall, Alnylam has so many patent options that making some kind of licensing arrangement with the company would be required if one wanted to securely develop RNAi Therapeutics. Recent progress in systemic delivery should add to the urgency and may even make waiting for the outcome of the Tuschl Tussle a difficult decision.