Biotech company RetroSense Therapeutics, which is developing a gene therapy for patients suffering from a form of blindness, is being acquired by Allergan for $60 million, the latter company announced Tuesday.
RetroSense’s therapy is based on research conducted by Zhuo-Hua Pan, a professor at Wayne State University’s medical school, who played an important but little-chronicled role in the invention of optogenetics.
Optogenetics is the practice of using light to control cells. It has been used in the laboratory to make brain cells light-sensitive in animals, but RetroSense’s clinical trial is the first time it has been used in humans.
The early-stage clinical trial aims to treat a type of blindness called retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that causes cells in the eye to die, leading to loss of vision. It aims to do this by inserting genes that code for light-sensitive proteins from algae into cells in the retina called ganglion cells.
The algae DNA is first put into a virus, which is injected into the patients’ eyes. This is also the first trial that involves putting non-human DNA into a human being, STAT reported in early September.
Other companies, like Spark Therapeutics, are also using gene therapy to combat blindness, using human genes.
Allergen purchased most of RetroSense for $60 million in cash, and estimates that the drug will be approved in the next five years, according to company documents. Allergen also agreed to further payments to RetroSense if and when the company meets regulatory and commercial targets.
But the path to commercial approval will likely be a long one. “I believe that these safety checks will take a long, long time,” Yang Dan, a professor of neuroscience at UC Berkeley, told STAT.