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    Athena Vision launches; developing gene therapies for devastating eye diseases

    By Andi M Skilton, on 24 November 2015

    Athena Vision logo

    Athena Vision is focused on developing gene therapies for eye diseases based on research conducted at UCL

    Today sees the launch of Athena Vision Limited a biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of gene therapies to treat a range of devastating eye diseases causing blindness.

    Launched by UCL Business PLC, the wholly-owned technology transfer company of UCL, Athena has entered into a global partnership with MeiraGTx Limited to develop and commercialise Athena’s ocular gene therapy programmes arising from research conducted by Professor Robin Ali, Head of the Department of Genetics at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and a leader in the field of cell and gene therapy for the eye.

    MeiraGTx, which is developing gene therapies for ocular diseases, neurodegenerative disorders and other diseases, will advance Athena’s pipeline of gene therapies through clinical trials to commercialisation. The partnership will pursue four initial clinical programmes in inherited retinal conditions: Leber congenital amaurosis type 2 (LCA2) caused by deficiencies in RPE65, achromatopsia caused by mutations in CNGB3 or CNGA3 and X-linked retinitis pigmentosa caused by mutations in RPGR. A Phase I/II dose-escalation clinical trial in LCA2 is expected to start in 1Q 2016. Development costs for all four programmes are supported by an undisclosed upfront payment by MeiraGTx.

    Athena and MeiraGTx have unparalleled access to resources through their affiliation with the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and its partner Moorfields Eye Hospital, which together form one of the world’s largest vision research centres, with access to a sizable and diverse patient population. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre and Clinical Research Facility will support the translation of the partnership’s gene therapy programs from the laboratory to early-phase clinical testing.

    The establishment of Athena accelerates the development of promising new therapies for inherited retinal diseases, which have been supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC), from early-stage research through clinical development via the MRC’s Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme (DPFS).

    “With MeiraGTx, we have the necessary technology and critical mass to deliver a pipeline of novel therapeutics to change patients’ lives,” said Professor Ali, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Principal Founder, Athena.

    “Athena’s leadership has expertise in developing advanced therapeutics from inception through clinical application. With MeiraGTx, we are building an integrated, global gene therapy business that brings together therapeutic and platform-based technologies along with extensive clinical, manufacturing and commercial experience,” said Stuart Naylor, CEO, Athena.

    “This new rapid translation of world-leading science into clinical application and large inward investment to the UK highlights the importance of continued governmental support for scientific research,” said Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw, Director of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.

    “We are delighted with such substantial investment to advance novel gene-based therapies. With the formation of this partnership, UK biomedical science continues to demonstrate its importance in the world sphere and, with sustained external and government support, our biomedical research leaders have true potential to bring to fruition innovations in treatment to benefit patients globally,” said Professor Philip J Luthert, Director, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.

    “The formation of Athena and the significant partnership with MeiraGTx provides a clear route for the translation and commercialisation of the world-class research strengths of Professor Robin Ali and his team at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. We look forward to supporting Athena as it commences its important work to deliver novel treatments to benefit patients with vision loss across the world,” said Cengiz Tarhan, Managing Director of UCLB.