Astellas Expands Gene Therapy Investment, Acquires U.K.-based Quethera for $109 Million

Astellas website_Editorial_Casimiro PT

Casimiro PT /

Japan-based Astellas plunked down nearly $109 million to snap up privately-held gene therapy company Quethera Limited and its novel treatments for glaucoma and other ocular disorders.

The acquisition of U.K.-based Quethera strengthens Astellas’ gene therapy platforms for eye disease. In 2016, the Japanese company entered into a licensing agreement with CLINO Corporation for its gene therapy treatments for retinitis pigmentosa. CLINO was developing adeno-associated virus-modified volvox channelrhodopsin-1 for the treatment. Two years prior, Astellas forged a research agreement with Harvard Medical School investigator Constance L. Cepko for genetic treatments for retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease caused by genetic mutations and characterized by loss of peripheral and night vision.

With the Quethera deal in hand, Astellas now has that company’s recombinant adeno-associated viral vector system (rAAV) platform to target glaucoma. Quethera’s lead pre-clinical candidate of the program has demonstrated significantly improved survival of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) in pre-clinical models, Astellas said this morning. Quethera’s treatment is designed to be administered as a single injection on one occasion into the affected eye. On its website, Quethera said the rAAV vector system it is using has “been shown to be safe and does not produce a large inflammatory response after injection” That makes it an ideal platform for the Quethera gene therapies, the company said.

Kenji Yasukawa, president and chief executive officer of Astellas, said the deal for Quethera demonstrates his company’s commitment to harness state-of-the-art technologies and develop them for patient value.

“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,” Yasukawa said in a statement.

Peter Widdowson, chief executive officer of Quethera, said the deal with Astellas will enable the company to accelerate its evaluation of the rAAV technology program to see if it is successful in slowing or preventing disease progression. Widdowson, who co-founded Quethera in 2013, said his company’s novel approach is focused on exploring potential treatment options for common ophthalmic diseases, such as glaucoma, that can cause blindness and severely affect quality of life for patients.

Under terms of the deal, Astellas ponied up £85 million, just under $109 million U.S., in upfront and contingent payments. The company declined to provide information on what those milestone contingencies might be. When the deal is completed, Quethera will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Astellas.

Astellas said the acquisition of Quethera will have “immaterial” impact on the company’s financial results for this year.

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