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5 February, 2020 - 13:23 By Kate Sweeney

Ophthalmic gene therapy company launches with £2.5m seed cash

Cambridge startup Ikarovec, which is developing novel gene therapies to treat major ophthalmic indications, has launched today with £2.5 million of seed funding from leading UK start-up investors UKI2S, LifeArc and Parkwalk. 

The cash will primarily take the company’s lead programme, a multicistronic gene therapy for diabetic macular edema (DME), to IND-enabling studies. 

Ikarovec was founded in 2019 by chief scientific officer Dr Peter Widdowson around intellectual property spun out of Quethera, which he founded and was bought by Astellas in 2018.

The proceeds will also be used to develop the company’s three earlier stage novel gene therapy products for major ophthalmic indications, build the intellectual property portfolio and establish its own laboratories.

The lead programme is the first gene therapy for impaired visual acuity associated with DME, designed to manufacture three therapeutic proteins in the retina to target leaking vessels and inflammation. 

This ‘polypharmacy’ gene therapy will be delivered by a novel exosome-based system. Encouraging data has been generated in in vitro cell assays.  DME is the leading cause of blindness in the working age population.

Dr Robert Haigh is executive chairman of Ikarovec, bringing extensive business development and ophthalmic expertise via roles at Boehringer Ingelheim, Ferring and KalVista. 

In association with the fundraising, he is joined on the board by Oliver Sexton, investment director at UKI2S, David Holbrook, head of the seed fund at LifeArc and Dr Cassie Doherty, investment director at Parkwalk.

Dr Haigh said: “The increasing incidence of debilitating ophthalmic diseases brings morbidity and economic cost and we are pleased to announce our seed funding today to tackle these urgent issues. 

“We thank our investors UKI2S, LifeArc and Parkwalk for their support, and look forward to working with them to build Ikarovec into a leading gene therapy company.”

Diabetic retinopathy (DR), the precursor of diabetic macular edema (DME) in type II diabetes and proliferative diabetic retinopathy in type I diabetes, is the most frequent vascular complication of the condition, affecting up to 80 per cent of patients who have suffered for 10 years or more.

In 2019 it is estimated that over 100 million people worldwide have diabetic retinopathy and, with more than two million new cases being diagnosed annually, this number is expected to double in the next 20 years.

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