Astellas has acquired Cambridge, UK-based Quethera, a gene therapy group focused on the development of novel treatments for ocular disorders, such as glaucoma.

The move gives Astellas access to Quethera’s ophthalmic gene therapy program, which uses a recombinant adeno-associated viral vector system (rAAV) to introduce therapeutic genes into target retinal cells for the treatment of glaucoma.

The lead preclinical candidate of the programme has already demonstrated “significantly improved survival of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) in preclinical models,” the firm noted.

Under the terms of the deal, Astellas could pay up to £85 million in aggregate consideration (upfront and contingent payments) for Quethera, which will upon closing become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Japanese drugmaker.

“This acquisition demonstrates Astellas’ commitment to proactively incorporate state-of-the-art scientific and technological advances and turn them into VALUE for patients,” said the firm’s president and chief executive Kenji Yasukawa.

“We believe the rAAV program has potential as a new therapeutic option for the treatment of refractory glaucoma through an intraocular pressure (IOP)-independent mechanism. It would address a high unmet medical need in glaucoma patients who are at risk of losing their eyesight.”

Peter Widdowson, Quethera’s chief executive, said the deal “enables us to accelerate our evaluation of this investigational technology program to see if we can slow or prevent disease progression for these patients.”