Novartis, a global healthcare company based in Switzerland, announced the acquisition of Arctos Medical, a Swiss start-up developing optogenetic therapies for treating blindness, to develop technology for the treatment of severe vision loss caused by genetic diseases called inherited retinal dystrophies.
More than two million people in the world are suffering from progressive vision loss linked to genetic diseases, which often result in complete blindness, according to a company news release. These diseases are caused by mutations in many different genes.
Existing treatments targeting a single gene responsible for vision loss are found workable in a small number of patients. However, for patients with inherited retinal dystrophies (IRDs) caused by any other gene, as well as other patients with different forms of vision loss, such as macual degeneration, there are no curative treatments available for the time being.
This is where Arctos comes into play. The company is developing technology for the treatment of vision loss linked to retinal degenerative diseases, based on the work of its scientific founders, Drs. Sonja Kleinlogel and Michiel van Wyk of the University of Bern.
The therapeutic approach is to create “replacement photoreceptors” with an optogene delivered to and expressed in specific retinal cells using adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapy technology.
The design of the optogene enables for fast and diverse retinal responses to ambient light. When activated by the optogene, the targeted cells engage intraretinal circuits to maximize the quality of the visual code sent to the brain.
This technology is expected to address various forms of IRDs, regardless of the causative mutations, and to reach a larger population of patients than existing treatments.
"We are thrilled that Novartis recognizes the potential value and differentiated profile of Arctos’ unique optogenetics technology,” said Kostas Kaloulis, CEO of Arctos and venture partner at +ND Capital.
“As a global ophthalmology leader, Novartis is ideally positioned to rapidly advance our program into the clinic. We look forward to progressing the technology to deliver transformative therapies for underserved patients.”