24 September 2015
Quethera, a gene therapy company developing a treatment for glaucoma that could prevent blindness, has received seed investment funding led by Midven’s Rainbow Seed Fund alongside co-investor Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, to continue pre-clinical development of their therapy.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. In England and Wales, the NHS estimates that there are more than 500,000 people who have glaucoma. Many more people have undiagnosed glaucoma because they are unaware that their vision has been damaged by the disease. Recent estimates predict that by 2020 there will be 11 million people worldwide blind due to glaucoma.
High pressure inside the eye is the strongest risk factor for glaucoma, however a significant number of people with glaucoma have eye pressures within the normal range. While glaucoma is a multifactorial disease, blindness is a direct result of damage to retinal ganglion cells, the nerve cells that connect the eye to the brain via the optic nerve. There are no licensed treatments to prevent nerve damage in glaucoma. All current therapeutic approaches for glaucoma, including all licensed medications as well as laser and surgical techniques, work by lowering the pressure inside the eye. However, even in populations with access to the best treatments currently available, an estimated 1 in 8 patients will still become blind in at least one eye.
Quethera is developing a gene therapy to provide long-term neuroprotection for nerve cells that will maintain vision in patients with all forms of glaucoma. The therapy will enhance the natural biochemical protective cellular pathways that have become degraded in patients with glaucoma. Quethera’s therapy is designed to enable long-term control of the disease via a single injection. The company’s aim is to develop a therapy that prevents progressive visual loss in glaucoma patients and thus reduce the burden of blindness due to the disease worldwide.
Quethera was founded by Dr. Peter Widdowson, who is also Quethera’s CEO, and builds on initial research performed by Professor Keith Martin of the University of Cambridge, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, who is also a Quethera founder. Widdowson said: “This seed funding will enable us to completely examine the efficacy of our novel neuroprotective gene therapy in models of glaucoma, to ensure it displays potent and prolonged activity in preparation for preclinical development.”
Professor Martin said: “It is heart-breaking that so many people with glaucoma around the world continue to go blind. My dream is to reduce this risk both for my own patients and for very many others. I am delighted that the Rainbow Seed Fund and Cambridge Enterprise have supported Quethera in our mission to bring an exciting new therapeutic approach to glaucoma towards the clinic.”
Bradley Hardiman, Investment Manager with Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds said: “Glaucoma is a debilitating disease. To be involved with a company that will provide a one-off long-term therapy is incredibly exciting.”
Oliver Sexton, Investment Director for Midven’s Rainbow Seed Fund said: “RSF invests in companies developing cutting edge synthetic biology based technologies to treat global problems. Quethera’s team and therapeutic plans are a compelling approach to treating glaucoma and improving the quality of life for millions of patients worldwide.”
Quethera is a recently established gene therapy company that builds on Professor Keith Martin’s research in Cambridge with a focus on treatment of commonly encountered ophthalmic conditions. Quethera’s initial focus is to prevent retinal cell death as a result of glaucoma through the generation of constructs which have potent neuroprotective activity and ultimately to progress this therapy towards clinical evaluation. Quethera is working in parallel with world leaders in the glaucoma field to design small-scale clinical trials which are capable of accurately detecting losses in the visual fields over relatively short periods of time. The company has world-class expertise in gene therapeutic design and development experience to facilitate progression of the glaucoma therapy into clinical development.
About Rainbow Seed Fund and Midven
The Rainbow Seed Fund is a £25m, early-stage venture capital fund dedicated to kick-starting promising technology companies developed at some of the UK’s largest publicly-funded research facilities, in the rapidly expanding science and technology campuses linked to them and in the field of synthetic biology. Created in 2002, the Rainbow Seed Fund is backed by 9 UK publicly-funded research organisations including STFC and BBSRC, and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The Fund, whose portfolio comprises over 30 companies, holds investments in some of the UK’s most innovative companies in areas as diverse as novel antibiotics, research into Alzheimer’s disease, “green” chemicals and airport security. The Fund’s impact in over the past decade has been recently validated by independent research showing the Fund has leveraged over £150m of private investment from just £7m of its own investment and helped create 172 high value technology-related jobs.
The Rainbow Seed Fund is managed by Midven, a privately owned commercial fund manager with a successful track record of investing in small and medium-sized enterprises.
About Cambridge Enterprise
Cambridge Enterprise Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Cambridge, responsible for the commercialisation of University intellectual property. Activities include management and licensing of intellectual property and patents, proof of concept funding and support for University staff and research groups wishing to provide expert advice or facilities to public and private sector organisations. Cambridge Enterprise provides access to angel investment and early stage capital through the Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds, University of Cambridge Enterprise Funds, Cambridge Innovation Capital and Cambridge Enterprise Venture Partners, and offers business planning, mentoring, and other related programmes. www.enterprise.cam.ac.uk
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