J&J buys an early-stage gene therapy for the eye — the only known program for an under-the-radar biotech
Just weeks after MeiraGTx touted their latest update on data emerging from their gene therapy alliance with J&J on inherited retinal diseases, the pharma giant is back with an acquisition tailored to beef up their R&D efforts in the field.
This deal is focused on HMR59, an early-stage gene therapy at a small biotech called Hemera Biosciences. They’re keeping the terms under wraps for now, but J&J is grabbing a once-and-done gene therapy that is designed to protect levels of CD59, a key protein that guards the retina.
Very little is on display about this Waltham, MA-based biotech. The only drug they refer to on their website is HMR59. There’s no word what, if anything, is left to work on. According to LinkedIn, Adam Rogers, who has an MD from Emory, launched the company 10 years ago.
By protecting CD59 in the eye, they believe the treatment can play a big role protecting the vision of patients suffering from geographic atrophy, a severe form of age-related macular degeneration.
J&J based the deal on the Phase I study that’s been completed, with another early-stage study now in the clinic focused on safety.
There’s been considerable work launched for gene therapies in this field since Spark — now owned by Roche — won a pioneering OK for their treatment for Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare genetic retinal disease 3 years ago. Just last summer Biogen added to that with an in-licensing pact on a gene therapy for inherited retinal diseases.
“Geographic atrophy is a devastating form of AMD that impacts the ability to accomplish everyday tasks, such as reading, driving, cooking, or even seeing faces,” said James List, Janssen’s global therapeutic area head, cardiovascular & metabolism. “Our aim with this novel, single-administration gene therapy is to use our development expertise and deep heritage in vision care to help improve patient outcomes by intervening early, halting the progression to blindness, and preserving more years of sight.”