Pitt Collaborates with Pharma Company on Eye Treatments

A closeup of glasses and an eyeThe University of Pittsburgh recently entered a research collaboration that will focus on clinical candidates for the treatment of dry age-related macular degeneration, a back-of-the-eye disease that causes vision loss.

Pitt will work with Astellas Pharma Inc., a pharmaceutical company conducting business in more than 70 countries around the world, to use a gene therapy approach to treat this common eye disease.

Among back-of-the-eye diseases, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the leading causes of acquired blindness in the elderly. It has two types, wet and dry, with the latter being more common. Dry AMD causes cells in the retina to gradually degenerate, resulting in vision deterioration as the disease advances. However, it’s unclear what causes the disease, and no clinically effective treatment exists.

A man in a white shirt and black suit“With the population aging, the negative health impacts and costs of the disease will increase dramatically over the next decade. While effective treatment has been developed for advanced wet AMD, currently there is no treatment or prevention for dry AMD. We look forward to working with Astellas to advance the development of innovative treatments,” said Debasish Sinha, the Jennifer Salvitti Davis, M.D. Chair in Ophthalmology Research at Pitt.

The team will use a gene therapy approach using what’s called adeno-associated viruses. This viral gene therapy has shown promising results in the past with minimal immune response.

“This project continues Pitt’s long history of collaborative research and is one more great indication that Pitt seeks partners around the world to advance health-related breakthroughs,” said Rob A. Rutenbar, senior vice chancellor for research at Pitt.

In this collaboration, Sinha, who is also a professor of ophthalmology, cell biology and developmental biology in Pitt’s School of Medicine, and Astellas will work jointly to evaluate and optimize drug candidates with an aim to provide new treatment options that help recover and maintain vision for the patients suffering from dry AMD.

Astellas has the exclusive negotiation right for further development and commercialization pertaining to clinical candidates obtained in this collaboration.

“At Astellas, blindness and regeneration and genetic regulation are the primary focus of our research and development strategy,” said Akihiko Iwai, president of drug discovery research at Astellas. “We are engaged in drug discovery research with new modalities such as cell and gene therapies. In addition to the cell therapy program that is currently being developed, we are confident that this collaboration with Pittsburgh will enable us to accelerate our efforts to deliver innovative treatments for patients with back-of-the-eye diseases who have high unmet medical needs. Through alliances and partnerships with academia and bio-ventures, Astellas will proactively incorporate various superior capabilities and aim to create innovative medical solutions that will turn innovative science into value for patients.”