They thought their gene therapy failed. Instead, it spawned a medical mystery
José-Alain Sahel was on a rare vacation in Portugal in the spring of 2018 when his phone rang with grim news: The gene therapy he had worked on for a decade, a potential cure for a rare form of blindness, had failed in a pivotal trial.
“In the first minute, I was very disappointed,” Sahel says. “I said, well OK, it’s not working.”
A failed trial in drug development is crushing but not unexpected, a tradeoff of doing business in biology. You examine the full data, go back to the drawing board and either abandon the effort or tweak and try again. Sahel, founder of four companies and the longtime head of the Vision Institute of Paris, was used to the process. But this time, when the full data came, he was bewildered.
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