University College London (UCL) has announced that it is forming a biopharma company focused on gene therapies to treat eye diseases that cause blindness.

The new company, Athena Vision, has already entered into a global partnership with MeiraGTx to develop and commercialise its ocular gene therapy programmes.

The partnership will pursue four initial clinical programmes in inherited retinal conditions: Leber congenital amaurosis type 2 (LCA2) caused by deficiencies in RPE65, achromatopsia caused by mutations in CNGB3 or CNGA3 and X-linked retinitis pigmentosa caused by mutations in RPGR.  A Phase I/II dose-escalation clinical trial in LCA2 is expected to start in the first quarter of 2016. 

Development costs for all four programmes are supported by an undisclosed upfront payment by MeiraGTx.

“Athena and MeiraGTx have unparalleled access to resources through their affiliation with the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and its partner Moorfields Eye Hospital, which together form one of the world’s largest vision research centres, with access to a sizable and diverse patient population,” the companies added in a statement.

Stuart Naylor, CEO of Athena, said: “Athena’s leadership has expertise in developing advanced therapeutics from inception through clinical application. With MeiraGTx, we are building an integrated, global gene therapy business that brings together therapeutic and platform-based technologies along with extensive clinical, manufacturing and commercial experience.”  

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre and Clinical Research Facility will support the translation of the partnership’s gene therapy programs from the laboratory to early-phase clinical testing.