RetroSense bags $6M in funding for its viral vector gene therapy candidate for a rare eye condition

Ann Arbor, MI's RetroSense Therapeutics announced a $6 million Series B funding round to fund a Phase I/II study of its gene therapy candidate for vision restoration, as well as a "a second promising gene therapy candidate." The financing brings its total haul to $13 million, including a $7 million Series A round completed earlier this year.

Recruitment for the trial of the candidate for the genetic eye condition retinitis pigmentosa is underway, RetroSense says. It received the FDA's Orphan Drug Designation in 2014 because there is no other drug on the market for the rare eye condition.

The candidate is designed to insert a gene (dubbed channelrhodopsin-2) into the eye that will cause it to create new photoreceptors in retinal cells, which die in degenerative diseases like retinitis pigmentosa and dry age-related macular degeneration.

The gene, which is delivered in the form of a viral vector, is administered via a one-time injection into the eye. RetroSense says that when in the retinal cell, the genes produce light-sensitive protein.

The round includes existing investors like BlueWater Angels, as well as new investors including VCs RBV Capital, ExSight Capital, and strategic backer Santen Pharmaceutical of Japan.

"The follow-on participation from Series A investors, combined with new institutional investors in the Series B financing, demonstrates the great enthusiasm for RetroSense Therapeutics' promise in ocular gene therapy," said RetroSense CEO Sean Ainsworth in a statement. "This syndicate of investors is tremendously strong in ophthalmology and optogenetics. Their financing and support will enable us to move forward more quickly, with broader reach."

Gene therapy is achieving prominence to treat eye conditions, because injections into the eye have little chance of causing harm or side effects in other parts of the body, MedCityNews points out. It reports that British startup NightstaRx recently received $35 million in a Series B round of its own for its viral vector gene therapy candidate to treat choroideremia, an eye condition that leads to blindness.

And 2014 Fierce 15 company Editas Medicine has plans to begin using its CRISPR gene editing technology on humans in 2017 to treat the rare eye condition Leber congenital amaurosis. Earlier this year it raised $120 million to fund the effort.

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