Monday, March 18, 2013

Gene Therapy in Ophthalmology Update 17: Hemera Biosciences Obtains Initial Funding

In December 2011, following that year’s AAO Meeting, I wrote about Hemera Biosciences and its complement regulation therapy via the use of gene therapy to prevent membrane attack complex (MAC), the final stage of the complement cascade that is implicated in both dry and wet AMD. (Gene Therapy in Ophthalmology Update 5: A Complement-Based Gene Therapy for AMD)

I am now happy to report that Hemera has obtained initial funding, along with the issuance of a US Patent and can now begin manufacturing its drug, soluble CD59 (protectin), perform animal toxicology and initiate a phase 1 clinical study.

To review, HMR59 is a gene therapy using an AAV2 vector to express a soluble form of a naturally occurring membrane bound protein called CD59 (sCD59), which blocks MAC. Membrane attack complex is the final common pathway of activation of the complement cascade, and is composed of complement factors C5b, C6, C7, C8 and C9 that assemble as a pore on cell membranes. The MAC pore induces ionic fluid shifts leading to cell destruction and ultimate death. 

HMR59 works by increasing the production of sCD59 by ocular cells. The sCD59 released from the cells will circulate throughout the eye and penetrate the retina to block MAC deposition and prevent cellular destruction. By blocking MAC, the remainder of the upstream complement cascade is left intact to perform its normal homeostatic roles.

The primary focus for the company will be preventing the conversion of the dry form of AMD from progressing into the wet form, however, they think that there's a role for HMR59 in treating the dry form (drusen and GA) as well as wet (neovascular) AMD.

Here is the company’s news release:

Hemera Biosciences Raises $3.75 Million; Patent Issued for TreatingAge-related Macular Degeneration

BOSTON, MA (March 15, 2013)  Hemera Biosciences announced its Series A financing of $3.75 million and issuance of US Patent 8,324,182 B2 on December 4, 2012, for treating age-related macular degeneration (AMD) with a human protein, soluble CD59 -- otherwise known as protectin.

“Human genetic studies and preclinical research have shown that alterations in complement – a significant driver of inflammation -- play a key role in the development of both wet and dry AMD,” said Adam Rogers, MD, one of the founders of Hemera. 

Preclinical studies done in the laboratory of Rajendra Kumar-Singh, PhD, another Hemera founder, have shown that intravitreal injection of an adeno-associated virus  that expresses soluble CD59, in an animal model, prevents the development of choroidal neovascularization. Choroidal neovascularization is the leading cause of  severe vision loss due to the wet form of AMD.

“Membrane attack complex (MAC) formation is the last step in the complement inflammation pathway.  Soluble CD59 when expressed in our animal models using gene therapy, prevents the development of MAC, death of retinal pigment epithelial cells and prevents abnormal blood vessel development in the eye.  Use of gene therapy to express soluble CD59 allows for long term treatment for this chronic blinding disease,” said Dr. Kumar Singh.

With the $3.75 million of financing raised in this initial round of funding, Hemera expects to have sufficient resources to manufacture the drug, perform animal toxicology studies and initiate a phase 1 study.

The founders and management team include Elias Reichel, MD, Jay Duker, MD, Rajendra Kumar-Singh PhD , and Adam Rogers, MD who all are on faculty at Tufts University School of Medicine.

About Hemera

Hemera Biosciences, founded in 2010, is a private company headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts that focuses on developing and commercializing gene therapy for age-related macular degeneration and other ocular conditions.

Hemera is developing its proprietary soluble CD59 gene therapy technology as a treatment for age-related macular degeneration for both the dry and wet forms of the disease.  The company’s lead program is the first and only complement therapy that directly targets MAC.  Hemera was started by some of the world’s leading experts in AMD and gene therapy.


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