Gene Therapy Research
Gene Therapy Research Programs
Ophthotech initiated an innovative gene therapy program focused on applying novel gene therapy technology to discover and develop new therapies for ocular diseases. We intend to investigate promising gene therapy product candidates and other technologies through collaborations with leading companies and academic institutions in the United States and internationally.
As we evaluate the unmet medical need for the treatment of orphan ophthalmic diseases, we have considered that many of these diseases are caused by one or more genetic mutations and currently have no approved treatment options available. Further, the potential to achieve an extended treatment effect and possibly a cure through a single gene therapy administration is particularly appealing to patients who do not have any treatment options, as well as for patients with age-related retinal diseases who currently require chronic therapy over years, if not decades.
Gene therapy consists of delivering DNA encoding for a functional protein to a target tissue to facilitate protein synthesis using a recipient’s existing cellular machinery. Gene therapy can be used to replace a non-functional protein produced innately by the subject as a result of a genetic mutation or simply as a means of producing and delivering a therapeutic protein that would not otherwise be produced within the body. The DNA, which is generally delivered by a viral vector, is governed by a promoter sequence which controls transcription of the gene of interest, or transgene, into RNA to initiate protein synthesis. Some of the challenges that gene therapy faces are producing vectors that transfect, or deposit the transgene, in only specific cell types, producing the desired protein at the therapeutic dose levels, and avoiding inducing an inflammatory response that leads to tissue damage. We are particularly interested in adeno-associated virus, or AAV, gene therapy delivery vehicles, as AAV vectors are relatively specific to retinal cells and their safety profile in humans is relatively well-documented as compared to other delivery vehicles and gene therapy technologies currently in development.
University of Massachusetts Medical School and its Horae Gene Therapy Center
For our first gene therapy collaboration, we entered into a series of sponsored research agreements with the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) and its Horae Gene Therapy Center to utilize their “minigene” therapy approach and other novel gene delivery technologies to target retinal diseases. As a condition of each research agreement, UMMS has granted the Company an option to obtain an exclusive license to any patent or patent applications that result from this research.
The use of “minigenes” as a novel therapeutic strategy seeks to deliver a shortened but still functional form of a large gene packaged into a standard-size AAV delivery vector commonly used in gene therapy. The “minigene” strategy may offer an innovative solution for diseases that would otherwise be difficult to address through conventional AAV gene replacement therapy where the size of the gene of interest exceeds the transgene packaging capacity of conventional AAV vectors. Research in this newly evolving area of gene therapy is led by Prof. Hemant Khanna and colleagues in the Horae Gene Therapy Center and was described in a recent journal article in Human Gene Therapy, “Gene Therapy Using a miniCEP290 Fragment Delays Photoreceptor Degeneration in a Mouse Model of Leber Congenital Amaurosis” by Wei Zhang, Linjing Li, Qin Su, Guangping Gao, and Hemant Khanna, all at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
The collaboration with UMass Medical School will also focus on developing the next generation of gene therapy vectors to allow novel delivery approaches for treatment of retinal diseases.