RetroSense's sight restoration therapy moves forward with Allergan acquisition

Six months after its first clinical trials on human patients, Ann Arbor biotechnology company RetroSense Therapeutics has been purchased by one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Earlier this month, Allergan, Plc announced it had bought the startup for $60 million, plus payments to be made as RST-001, RetroSense's lead gene therapy program for sight restoration, meets regulatory and commercial milestones.

Launched in 2009, RetroSense is developing a novel gene therapy to restore vision in patients with retinal degenerative diseases. Using technology licensed from Wayne State University, the company plans to use genes extracted from blue-green algae to regenerate photoreceptors in the human retina.

In 2014, RetroSense received orphan status for Wayne State's technology, which protects RetroSense's rights to research as it works toward commercialization. Clinical trials were launched last spring and should wrap up next year.

RetroSense CEO and founder Sean Ainsworth says the Allergan buyout allows his four-person development team to focus on preparing their technology for the market while remaining in Ann Arbor.

"My role will be much more focused on clinical development than the myriad things a startup CEO is tasked with," he says. "Allergan brings the resources to bear, which will ensure opportunity to develop our programs optimally, and I am excited to continue leading those efforts under the Allergan umbrella."

Ainsworth and his team shopped the business to "all of the major players in ophthalmology" before coming to terms with Dublin-based Allergan.

"Allergan is the world leader in the space and was a great fit for us," he says.

Ainsworth credits RetroSense's success to its team of officers, advisors, and board members, as well as support from nonprofit business incubator Ann Arbor SPARK.

"We had some of the foremost experts within RetroSense, which enabled us to secure the capital needed to develop our programs," he says.

That capital included $250,000 from the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund, which SPARK helped connect the young company with early on.
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