Company Builds on FFB’s Initial Investment to Garner $265 Million in Therapy Development Funding
In the early 1990s, scientists began discovering the genetic defects causing blinding, inherited retinal diseases and saw a unique opportunity to overcome them. They envisioned gene therapy — delivering healthy genes to the retina to replace the bad ones — as an elegant approach to saving and restoring vision. Furthermore, a single injection of gene therapy would likely halt or reverse the disease process and work effectively for several years, perhaps the patients’ lifetimes.
The Foundation Fighting Blindness, the world’s leading private, nonprofit retinal research organization, funded most of these genetic discoveries for retinal diseases and immediately recognized the enormous opportunity for gene therapy to beat blindness.
No, people with inherited retinal diseases don’t have to adopt new names or personas, or go into witness protection programs, to save their vision. But by changing the identity of cells in the retina — namely rods — researchers may someday be able to slow or halt vision loss for those with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and other related conditions.
While the innovative therapeutic approach is not ready to be tested in humans, a research team led by Tom Reh, PhD, University of Washington, and Sheng Ding, PhD, University of California, San Francisco, accomplished the feat in mice with RP. The investigators treated rods in the mice with a compound known as photoregulin1 (PR1) that blocked a gene involved in rod development called Nr2e3. That, in turn, reduced the expression (activity) of other rod-associated genes, making the rods less rod-like and more like cones. Doing so stopped retinal degeneration, preserving both rods and cones. Rods and cones are important, because they’re the cells that make vision possible. Results of the PR1 study were published online in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.
The Foundation Fighting Blindness annual report, released this week, details another groundbreaking year in which Foundation-funded studies made great strides across the continuum of research that will one day cure blindness caused by retinal degenerative disease. That work included harnessing the power of gene and stem-cell therapies, partnering with pharmaceutical companies to develop new drug treatments, and working across the retinal science community to create clinical trial endpoints that will strengthen and speed the all-important clinical trials process.
You can read the full report at: