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Can Either of These Little-Known Biotechs Find New Life Fighting Coronavirus?

In 1962, the Nobel Prize was awarded to Francis Crick and James Watson for their discoveries related to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the genetic code that provides instructions to cells. Messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), the intermediate step between DNA and proteins, can be bound and degraded by nucleic acids, naturally or by design, which results in lower expression of proteins. In 2006, Andrew Fire and Craig Mello won the Nobel Prize for discovering how this RNA interference (RNAi) finds, and turns off, specific genes.

In March, pharma companies Alnylam (NASDAQ: ALNY) and Vir Biotechnology (NASDAQ: VIR) partnered to develop a vaccine using RNAi via an inhaled substance. The companies have been partners since a 2017 agreement allowed Vir to license a few drugs using Alnylam’s RNA interference technology. Alnylam has two drugs on the market using RNAi technology, and Vir is one of the few biotechnology companies to focus on infectious diseases. This was evident in March when the tiny biotech signed a collaboration agreement with the National Institutes of Health and the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop antibodies that would fight coronaviruses.

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